Feeding garden birds

Posted: Friday 10 October 2014
by Kate Bradbury

I’m writing this post from my mother’s living room. I’m sitting on her ‘reading chair’ looking out to her new bird feeding station...

I’m writing this post from my mother’s living room. I’m sitting on her ‘reading chair’ looking out to her new bird feeding station, from which hang feeders containing a variety of food including peanuts, sunflower seeds and a generic seed mix. A robin is inspecting the dish on which yesterday there were several fat balls. There are no fat balls today – earlier this morning a magpie spent an hour removing large chunks of fat ball only to deposit them in various parts of the garden.

I’m not getting a lot of work done.

The bird feeding station heralds a new chapter in my mum’s life. She recently retired and moved house, and her cat is now so old and decrepit it barely notices the birds these days. What’s more, the neighbours’ cats are old and decrepit too (one, my mum tells me, has just had all of its teeth removed). Unlike at her last home, where neighbouring cats were younger and more “mean”, the birds are safe here. Not only does she now have time to sit and look at the birds, but she can watch them without fear or guilt of the thought of bringing them closer to their predators.

Despite being up for less than a week, the feeding station has attracted blue tits and great tits, robins, magpies and pigeons (she doesn’t like the magpies or pigeons). It sits in front of a wall next to an overgrown yew hedge, a lilac tree and a big swathe of ivy, so there’s plenty of shelter for the birds to hide from the toothless, decrepit cats.

But some things need to change before I take my train back to London. The feeders are old and, although clean, the perches are positioned on top of one another, which encourages the birds at the upper perches to defecate on the heads of those beneath them. Potentially this could spread diseases. The fat balls are laid out on a tray rather than in a dispenser, and mum uses a generic seed mix, which can lead to birds rifling through and picking out the best bits while discarding the remainder on the ground for pigeons and rats to hoover up. Sunflower hearts, I tell my mum, are nutrient-rich, mess-free and less likely to upset the neighbours.

So, while the robin sits and sings for its supper on its empty fat ball tray, I’m taking mum to the garden centre. We’ll buy shiny new feeders with opposite perches, sunflower hearts and suet nibbles, and something for the robin that won’t be so easy for the magpie to steal.

When I return at Christmas I will sit in mum’s reading chair with a cup of tea and a mince pie, and watch birds flocking round her feeders. My hopes are high for a flock of long-tailed tits. But we’ll see. It’s not yet been a week.

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Talkback: Feeding garden birds
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oldchippy 10/10/2014 at 17:57

Was that a Magpie and cup of tea I wonder,is there any goodness in sycamore seeds or ash seeds there always seam to be lots under the trees don't the birds eat them,may be someone will find a use for them one day.

Elusive 11/10/2014 at 19:12

Its good for the survival of Sycamore/Ash trees I guess that nothing eats the seeds

kjthompson60 13/10/2014 at 08:30

What can you feed a Robin that a Magpie will not find easy to steal? Please let me know, as they seem to steal anything and everything I put out.

Fairygirl 13/10/2014 at 08:43

I often put feed in a cage on the ground so that the smaller birds can get in but the bigger ones can't. It's an old wall basket and I had it up against a large square pot. You can buy the but you could rig something similar up if you don't want to do that. I put some out for the other birds too but it means all the little ones get a chance before  the food's eaten by the big birds! The blackbirds can get their heads through the gaps and take the bits at the edge. I also have a hanging bird table and I have a few twigs across the front and back which does the same job of keeping the bigger birds out, although the magpies have a good go at it. The resident robin loves it 

kjthompson60 13/10/2014 at 10:06

Ah thank you, as I hate not feeding the ground feeders, but resent the Magpies coming along and frightening off the smaller birds, and eating all the food. I will give your idea ago.

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