Gardening for Birds
by Stephen Moss
pub. HarperCollins Publishers, 2000
Hardback, 144 pages, £12.99
ISBN 0 00 220168 2
Subtitled: 'how to help birds make the most of your garden' this book, with its easy-going style, provides a comprehensive overview of what anyone with a garden can do to create an environment to attract birds. While that may seem a rather unecessary task - given the abundance of birdlife - there are lots of species under pressure thanks to modern farming techniques and industrialisation. The House Sparrow, once so common in our towns and cities, is becoming an increasingly rare visitor. 'Gardening for Birds' provides lots of practical ideas and advice, whether you only want to do a little bit to help our birdlife or wish to make your whole garden bird friendly.
The contents fall into five parts. The opening 'Gardens for Birds' section aims to stimulate your imagination about the potential that your garden holds as a bird-friendly environment, and includes six double-page garden plans. These range from roof terrace and small urban gardens to large country gardens. Pages following the plans include 'Things to Consider' and 'Plants to Grow' sections, and contain practical thoughts such as limiting the size of bird tables in small urban gardens, and the potential attraction of vermin where kitchen scraps are left out as bird food. There are also box-outs which suggest suitable equipment, and the types of bird you can expect to see in the respective urban, suburban and country garden.
The second part of the book is the 'Bird Calendar' which takes a month by month look at the birds you're likely to see in the garden, and their activities. There's a nice combination of artists' illustrations and photographic content to inspire you, with each month featuring a 'Things to Do' list.
In August we're advised, among other things, to reduce the food supply to a minimum. In June cat owners are advised to fit a bell or other bird-scaring device, and to keep the bird bath topped up. When it comes to December there's a reminder to increase food levels.
'Caring for Birds' forms the third part of the book and is brimming with ideas for bird tables, boxes, bird baths and ponds, and should give anyone handy with a hammer and saw inspiration to construct simple items of their own. Several pages are devoted to predators and pests like moggies and squirrels; there being a couple of photographs of squirrel-proof bird feeders. The author also gives his thoughts on dealing with insect pests; suggesting that they are dealt with by introducing natural predators - birds among them.
The last two parts of 'Gardening for Birds' are the 'Plant' and 'Bird Directories'. The Plant directory is there to help you choose plants which will, in one way or another, help birdlife in your garden. To help you balance the aesthetic aspects with the need to provide plants that bear seeds and berries, flowering plants to attract insects, and foliage for cover, each of the plants listed is illustrated with a photograph. Accompanying text provides information on plant size, basic cultivation, and the particular benefit of the plant. Goldfinches feed on the seeds of the Lavender plant, for example, while other species are feed on the insects drawn to the plant.
The 'Bird Directory' is a straightforward guide to help identify the birds visiting your garden and includes distribution maps for the various species. Each species has sections on physical identification features, the song and calls, where and when the bird appears, habits, feeding and breeding. There are also small, side-profile artists' drawings of each species, and generally these include the adult male and female, but sometimes juveniles, and adults with winter plumage where this differs. The contents of the Directory are nicely laid out and should make it relatively easy to identify those new visitors you have attracted to your bird-friendly garden.
This is a book which will clearly bypass anyone without sympathy for nature or natural history. However, it should be of interest to anyone with a garden who might be wondering what else of interest they can add. It may also inspire anyone contemplating a more natural approach to garden pests. On the other side of the coin 'Gardening for Birds' might help non-gardening birdwatchers transform their garden into fully fledged bird-friendly acres.