Hedges play a crucial role in providing shelter and sustenance for various wildlife species, including birds, butterflies, and moths. In this guide, we will delve into the world of birds nesting in hedges, exploring the types of nesting birds, their preferred hedge conditions, and how to care for hedges during nesting season. Additionally, we will discuss the legal aspects of hedge trimming and how to provide a bird-friendly environment in your garden.
Types of Nesting Birds
There are over sixty species of birds that take advantage of hedges for shelter, roosting, or nesting. Some common garden birds that often use hedges as their home include blackbirds, blue tits, robins, wrens, and chaffinches. Larger birds such as turtledoves or bullfinches may prefer taller hedges surrounded by trees, while smaller birds like robins or linnets may be content with smaller hedgerows.
Why Do Birds Like Hedges?
Hedges provide the perfect shelter for birds, as they can easily navigate through the leaves and foliage. In addition to shelter, hedges also serve as a source of warmth during cold winter months and offer a food source for birds in the form of insects and bugs.
Birds Nesting in Hedges: What to Do
Although there is no law against pruning or trimming hedges, there are laws regarding the handling of bird nests. According to Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is an offence to intentionally take, damage, or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. Consequently, it's essential to exercise caution when trimming hedges housing nests. The best course of action is to let the birds leave on their own.
Hedge Care During Winter
While most birds vacate hedges during the winter, some may still take shelter in them during this period. As such, it's vital to be cautious when caring for your hedges during winter. Utilize small garden tools and hand-held trimmers to trim your hedges, as birds may leave temporarily to avoid disturbance but will likely return once the area is clear.
Benefits of Nesting Birds
Having birds nesting in your hedges presents several benefits that you may not be aware of. For instance, some bird species consume weeds and their seeds, promoting the health and growth of your plants. Additionally, birds can naturally eliminate unwanted pests by feeding on insects. This natural pest control is one reason why houses in areas with abundant bird life may have higher property values than those in other areas without.
Furthermore, having birds in your garden offers health benefits. Listening to birds chirping and watching them fly around your garden can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Bird Nesting Season: When Does It Take Place?
Bird nesting season is the time of year when birds build nests and incubate their eggs. The season typically occurs during early spring to late summer, with most birds nesting between March and July. During this period, food is abundant, and warmer days provide a safer environment for young chicks.
How Long Does Bird Nesting Season Last?
According to natural england, bird nesting season lasts from February until August. It is recommended that tree or hedge cutting does not take place during this period. However, bird nesting season may start earlier or finish later depending on the weather. It's best to leave the area undisturbed if you notice any nesting activity.
How Do Birds Make Nests?
Different bird species create various types of nests. Some weave intricate nests from sticks, bark, feathers, moss, grass, and other materials, while others may use mud or saliva as glue to stick nesting materials together. Some birds build messy twig piles, barely substantial enough to hold their eggs. Several birds nest on the ground, while others prefer holes in cliffs, rooftops, walls, or trees.
In the weeks or days leading up to nesting, birds often collect nesting materials and bring them back to the nesting site. Thus, plants that provide suitable nesting materials, such as long grasses, are a great addition to a bird-friendly garden.
Best Hedges for Attracting Birds
When planting a hedge to attract birds, choose native species, as wild birds will already be familiar with these plants and know how to use them. Additionally, plants that provide food, shelter, and protection are always attractive for nesting birds. Some native species to consider for creating a wildlife-friendly garden include:
Blackthorn: This native hedgerow plant creates dense thickets, perfect for nesting birds. In the spring, it has beautiful white flowers, attracting insects, and in autumn, it produces sloes.
Hawthorn: Hawthorn has dense foliage, providing valuable cover and protection for birds. Additionally, its flowers attract insects, and its berries provide essential energy for birds during winter.
Alder: Alder trees produce tiny cones filled with seeds that are high in energy and popular among siskins, redpolls, greenfinches, and goldfinches. These small trees also create a good structure for building nests.
Dog Rose: Dog rose rambles through tree and bush branches, decorating them with large pink flowers that attract insects. The roses also produce rose hips that attract blackbirds and redwings.
Ivy: Ivy attracts insects that some birds eat and can help provide more cover for nesting birds in your hedge. Ivy is also evergreen, making it an excellent choice for birds sheltering in the winter.
Tips for Attracting Birds to a Hedge
Most birds will be attracted to hedges that are diverse in species. The more plant species you have in your hedge, the more species of birds you are likely to attract, as different birds have different needs. For example, blackbirds like to nest near a tall tree they can use to perch, and blue tits like to nest in holes in trees or bird boxes. Providing a range of hedgerow plants will help cater to as many of these needs as possible.
Most birds prefer to nest in a wide hedge that has good coverage. Adding some taller species into your hedge will also make provision for birds that prefer nesting high off the ground, such as chaffinches and greenfinches. Species with spikes, such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn, provide excellent protection from predators for species that prefer to nest closer to the ground, like wrens, robins, and dunnocks.
Birds will also prefer to nest somewhere near food. Providing plant species that bear flowers and fruit will help to attract insects and birds to your hedge. Once you have birds feeding in the area, they will be more likely to stay and nest. You can make your hedgerow more attractive by hanging bird boxes and feeders.
Which Birds Nest in Hedges?
Many species of garden birds will nest in hedgerows in the UK. Which bird species you attract will depend on the characteristics of the hedge. If you have a mixed hedge with plenty of native species and some taller trees, you may see:
Blue tits: These small blue and yellow birds make their nests in holes in trees or bird boxes. They need their nest to be higher than two meters but no more than four meters above the ground and attached to a tree, wall, or fence. Ensure the entrance is shaded from strong sunlight. Blue tits will line their nests with moss, feathers, and other soft materials they can find.
Blackbirds: Blackbirds nest low down in most hedgerows if there is somewhere nearby to perch. They weave beautiful, sturdy cups out of grass, twigs, and other materials they can find.
Dunnock: Also known as the hedge sparrow, dunnocks will nest in most dense hedges. They tend to nest near the ground, so they will need dense foliage lower down. They weave little bowls like a blackbird's nest and line them with moss and feathers.
Chaffinch: These bright and vociferous birds like to nest close to a large or sturdy branch or trunk. They are one of the most common hedgerow birds. As chaffinches feed primarily on insects, they usually gather food from the base of a hedge, so they will prefer dense lower foliage. Their nests are neat and made mostly from moss. They sometimes use spiderwebs too to glue it together.
Greenfinch: These beautiful green and yellow birds like to nest close to other greenfinches. They prefer dense, evergreen foliage. They weave sticks and grass together and line the bowl-shaped inside with feathers, wool, and other soft materials.
Bullfinch: Bright pinkish-red birds with smart black heads, bullfinches like to nest in taller hedges. They weave a tangle of small twigs together into the shape of a bowl.
Robin: These common and recognizable birds will nest in most thick hedges or trees. They weave a bowl of grass and small twigs on top of tree branches or in an open-fronted nest box.
Song thrush: These birds nest in tall hedges or trees and build neat nests lined with mud, dung, or rotten wood.
Wren: These tiny but very loud brown birds will nest on the ground in dense vegetation. They make little domed nests or nests in hollows near the base of a tree. They weave sticks, moss, grass, and other materials together to make a very cozy and elaborate nest.
If your garden is close to other habitats such as a river valley, farmland, or woodland, your hedge might attract different species, but these are the most common garden hedge birds.
What to Do if You Spot Nesting Birds in Your Hedge
If you spot birds nesting in your hedge, you must try not to disturb them. Only carry out work on your hedge once the nesting season is over. Be aware that birds will still use your hedge outside of the nesting season to forage for food, perch, or shelter, so it is always good to exercise caution when carrying out hedge work.
Is It Illegal to Cut Hedges When Birds Are Nesting?
It is not illegal to cut hedges, but given the high risk of disturbing a nesting bird, it is always best to avoid cutting them during the nesting season. Light pruning may be ok while you can see there is no nesting activity, but we always recommend exercising caution.
What to Do if a Baby Bird Falls Out of a Nest
If you find a baby bird out of its nest and in immediate danger, you can move it a short distance. Pick it up carefully with gloves on and move it no more than 2 meters away. You should place it somewhere sheltered where its parents can still find it.
Tips for Helping Birds Make Nests
You can help birds make nests by giving them a dense, species-rich hedge. You may also want to hang nest boxes for birds such as robins and blue tits. Make sure to follow the instructions on the box so that you place them at the correct height for the intended species. Certain birds will prefer particular types of nest boxes, so selecting a few different ones will help attract more species.
You can also use old bird feeders to offer nesting materials. Dry grass clippings, raw sheep's fleece, small twigs, and hay are all good choices. Remember, it is still important to provide birds with food as they will need the energy to lay eggs and look after their young.
When to Cut Hedges to Avoid Nesting Birds
Although there are no set dates for when nesting season begins or ends, cutting hedges between the beginning of August and the end of February is usually safe. Some birds may nest outside of these times, especially in mild years. So always check for nesting behavior prior to carrying out work.
Cutting hedges outside the nesting season is a good idea, as it will help them maintain dense foliage and shape. Pruning also helps fruit-bearing species produce more fruit.