Thursday, 5 February 2009

Spare a thought for the birds

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Lincolnshire with blue skies and sunshine and despite the snow on Monday I guess I sort of forgot that this was still winter and I was then taken by surprise this morning to wake up to another significant fall of snow. I tried to get to work but it was impossible and the roads were impassable so I went back home and I am sure that the birds were grateful for that.

It is amazing to think that a bird can use up roughly ten per cent of its body weight trying to keep warm on a cold night and during the winter months the mortality rate of a lot of the United Kingdom’s bird population reaches dangerous levels when the temperature drops like it did last night. They need to build up their energy and the garden has been full all day with all of them sitting expectantly on the fence and frantically feeding whenever I have replenished the bird table and the feeders.

The greedy starlings swoop first and take what they want without a thought for the others. They are not everyone’s favourite I know, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the starlings, which is just as well because I have got a whole flock of them in my back garden. They are messy and don’t seem to be especially bright because they will come onto the bird table with a beak full of goodies and seeing something that they prefer will put this down while they pick up their favourites before flying off and leaving their earlier food catch behind for someone else. They certainly are messy feeders and if they were human diners I definitely wouldn’t want to be sitting next to them in a restaurant without wearing a full suit of protective clothing.

Blackbirds on the other hand are much brighter and will hang around the back door because they prefer more exclusive dining arrangements and keep returning to encourage me to throw down more raisons and sultanas. One in particular is especially bold and will knock on the door with his beak if I keep him waiting too long.

I was pleased to welcome back the Thrush this morning because I haven’t seen one of these in the garden since last spring so finding food today must have been especially hard. The other infrequent visitor, the magnificent Jay, popped by to take lunch and the Blue Tits and the Great Tits fly in to take nuts one by one from the feeder and fly off to eat it somewhere else and then return a few seconds later. I must have filled the peanut feeders at least four times today, but they do have to share the contents with the Sparrows who are just as expert at taking the nuts. Another old friend was back today and the Blackbird with the white throat, who I call the vicar, stopped by a couple of times.

The Robin waits patiently for the Starlings to leave the table and then comes later to take what others have left behind. The Sparrows are busy on the seed feeder and the Goldfinch seem little troubled by the weather and their steady routine remained unchanged except for the frequent interruptions of the Greenfinch, which ocassionaly bully them off of the thistle seed feeder but don’t stay very long and the gaily coloured Goldfinch quickly return.

The ground feeders were having the most difficulty today so I had to make sure that there was a good supply of seed on top of the frozen snow. The Chaffinch with their delightful cerise chests were busy on the ground for most of the day and they were joined almost permanently by the Dunnocks and only very occasionally by the tiny little Wren.

I like the Wren and would like to encourage him to pass by more often and I have put a wren box in a yew tree in the hope that this might persuade him to nest here. Although I don’t see them very often Wrens are among the most common birds in the United Kingdom, and according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds there are currently around ten million pairs. They suffer from heavy losses during the winter though because food can become hard to come by for them. In the most recent coldest winter, 1962/3 there wasn’t a frost-free night for nearly twelve weeks. Seventy-five per cent of British wrens were thought to have died during that winter and that is why it is important to feed them in cold weather. They suffer from cold because at a length of less than ten centimetres they are the second smallest birds in the UK, after the goldcrest. Because it may be difficult to catch spiders, which is their favourite food (and I am not going to do it for them) a handful of grated cheese is the usual recommendation for them.

The forecast for tomorrow is just as poor so tonight I am making extra rations of fat balls made from lamb fat and mixed with sultanas, bread, peanuts and seed and they should be ready later to put out in time for tomorrow’s early morning rush when the birds like to feed to replace lost body fat after simply getting through the cold night.


Sandra said...

Hi Andrew, I always feed the birds in my garden. The most common visitors are Goldfinches, there are up to thirty of them on a good day. A few Robins, blue tits, Great Tits, the odd Wren, Chaffinches and greenfinches but nowhere near as many Starlings as there used to be. I`ve found that none of them touch the peanut feeders so I don`t buy them anymore. Meal worms are a favourite and so are the sunflower hearts, especially with the goldfinches, the greediest of the small birds. I also make sure they have plenty of water, especially when its as cold as this.


Sandra xx

Hollie said...

I see you love to feed & watch the birds, too. It's one of my favorites past times. LOL about the impatient Blackbird. He's a smart guy for rushing you up with his meal.