Garden birds and poppies

by James Alexander-Sinclair

If you look closely you notice that many [poppy seedheads] are full of little holes, which make them look quite spooky and skull-like.

Poppy seedheadsSome of my earliest memories are of going to stay with my grandparents in Scotland. Every afternoon my grandfather would wander off to sit on a bench and feed the birds. He had a tin filled with peanuts in his waistcoat pocket, and robins and tits would come to his hand - and to ours if we stayed still enough.

After that I became a bit blasé on the subject: birds were just things that flew about and, in certain incarnations, tasted good.

Today we get quite excited by the birds that visit this garden, especially as when we first came here there was nothing at all except for some noisy starlings. Now we have generations of swallows in the barn, owls, hawks, two varieties of woodpecker, goldfinches and all sorts of garden bird.

Anyway, all over my garden there are seedheads of annual poppies. There are still some in flower but they are very late - usually because they have sown themselves somewhere a little shadier or generally less conducive to enthusiastic growth.

Left untroubled, the ripened and fading carcasses of the seedheads become flimsier and more decrepit. Eventually they collapse, dropping thousands of seeds all over the surrounding area.

We have collected thousands and thousands of seeds, some of which are awaiting redistribution and others which have been used in recipes such as poppy seed sourdough baguette.

But we are not the only ones making free with the poppies. If you look closely you notice that many of them are full of little holes, which make them look quite spooky and skull-like. They look like something Tim Burton might have dreamed up for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The culprits are blue tits, who cling on to the stems and peck holes in the body of the seedhead. I always think that they must get an awful shock as their beaks flood with hundreds of little black seeds. Like sitting underneath a Smartie dispenser with your mouth open.

Still, I don’t begrudge them whatever they want. We have plenty to go around. It also means that they help distribute the poppies a bit further each year. All over the garden there are birds eating as much as they possibly can to put on a bit of extra weight for the winter.

Seems like a good way to spend the rather dead month of August. Pass the biscuits...

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Gardeners' World Web User 15/08/2011 at 19:34

What a wonderful memory, James. We've put up feeders and are always excited to see something new come to visit. We recently had both Indigo Finches and an American Golden Finch start coming around. Still haven't gotten them to eat from my hand though. ;) Might be a good idea for those who feed the birds from feeders to make sure they sanitize feeders and watering containers as Avian Flu is really getting bad... Happy Gardening!

Gardeners' World Web User 15/08/2011 at 19:37

I never buy biscuits in August but eat Sungold tomatoes off the vine and plums and Pearmains off the trees instead, James. Much better for the waistline and to keep September colds at bay After my landscapers finished my new path there was a lot of shifting about of top soil in my garden and myriads of poppy seeds have germinated. Quite beautiful and being left to do their own thing. So I too may have Smartie dispensers for the tits next year. must make some poppy seed sour dough baguettes though.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/08/2011 at 08:49

Are you sure you're not the host to a subversive group of opium eating blue tits. Do the birds show any marked preference for those rather blousy purple ones ? I'd always been told (although probably mischeivously) that they were escapees from illicit farming ventures.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/08/2011 at 09:37

ive been trying for months to get my lovely garden robin to eat from my hand...he now get very close to me,i put seed in my hand and put it out to him or her ...i think he/she wants to and he goes to jump but always changes its mind,,however i think if i put LIVE mealworms in my palm i reckon he will eat out of hand but i dont like touching worms [yuk]. any ideas people?

Gardeners' World Web User 16/08/2011 at 09:41

What is the best way to get plants to grow from poppy seeds, just broadcast them or sow them in trays and then replant ? When is the best time to do this ? Steve Lyon,France

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