Hedges provide a lifeline for our garden birds, from food and shelter to a safe place to build a nest and raise their young. Watching our hedges come alive with nesting-building commotion, followed by fluffy chicks taking flight are some of the true joys of a spring garden.
Now more than ever, garden birds need our help to survive and care for their chicks. So when we come to trim our hedges, we need to consider whether it is bird nesting season.
Here we will look at when bird nesting season takes place, how long it lasts and when to cut hedges to avoid nesting birds. We will also look at the best hedges for birds and which birds nest in hedges here in the UK.
What is bird nesting season?
Bird nesting season is the time of year when birds build nests and sit on their eggs. It must be warm enough for the eggs to be incubated correctly, and food must be abundant enough to feed the growing young chicks. Some species of birds will nest more than once in a season, so the nesting season can last quite a long time. In milder years, some birds may start nesting early.
When is bird nesting season?
Bird nesting season takes place from early spring to late summer. However, most birds nest between March and July, when food is most abundant and the warmer days present a safer environment for young chicks.
How long does the 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. In practice, bird nesting season may start before or finish after this period. Leaving the area as undisturbed as possible is always best if you notice any nesting activity.
How do birds make nests?
Different species of birds make different nests. Some birds weave intricate nests from sticks, bark, feathers, moss, grass and other materials. Some can use mud or saliva as glue to stick nesting materials together. Other birds make a messy twig pile, barely substantial enough to hold their eggs. Numerous birds nest on the ground, and some nest in 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. Therefore, plants that provide suitable nesting materials, such as long grasses, are a great addition to a bird-friendly garden.
What are the best hedges for attracting birds?
When planting a hedge to attract birds, you should choose native species. This is because wild birds will already be familiar with these plants and know how to use them. In addition, plants that provide food, shelter and protection are always attractive for nesting birds. Try some of these native species to create a wildlife-friendly garden:
- 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, another native plant, has dense foliage providing valuable cover and protection for birds. Additionally, the flowers attract insects; in winter, it has berries that provide essential energy for birds.
- Alder; the tiny cones produced by Alder trees are full of seeds. These seeds are high in energy and very popular with siskin, redpoll, greenfinch and goldfinch. In addition, these small trees create a good structure for building nests.
- Dog Rose; Dog rose is a beautiful addition to a hedge. It rambles through the branches of trees and bushes, decorating them with large pink flowers that attract insects. The roses also produce rose hips that attract blackbirds and redwing.
- Ivy: Ivy is attractive to insects that some birds eat and can help to provide more cover for nesting birds in your hedge. Ivy is also evergreen, making it an excellent choice for birds sheltering in the winter.
These species and more are available in our RSPB-approved bird-friendly hedging packs.
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 chaffinch and greenfinch. 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 in bird boxes. They need to have their nest higher than two metres but no more than four metres above ground, attached to a tree, wall or fence. Ensure that the entrance is shaded from strong sunlight. Blue tits will line their nests with moss, feathers and other soft materials they can find.
- 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. Their common name is the hedge sparrow, and they 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 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 recognisable 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 cosy 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.
The Laws around hedge-cutting and nesting birds
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is illegal to:
- Kill, injure or take any wild bird.
- Take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use.
- Intentionally destroy or take the egg of any wild bird.
- Intentionally or recklessly disturb certain wild birds whilst nesting. These birds are listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
These are things that can easily happen by accident whilst pruning a hedge. If you are found to be disturbing a bird nesting site, you could end up with an unlimited fine or even six months in prison. Therefore, we should always prune hedges outside the nesting season to avoid this risk.
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 whilst 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 metres away. You should place it somewhere sheltered where its parents can still find it.
Tips for how to help 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 bluetits. 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
Though there are no set dates 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 behaviour prior to carrying out work.
Cutting your 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.
We have a wide range of hedgerow plants. If you want to create a hedge that is great for birds and other wildlife, you should choose native species. Alternatively, you might want to try one of our RSPB-approved bird-friendly hedging packs.
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