Garden birds and the Big Garden Birdwatch

Posted: Thursday 14 January 2010
by Kate Bradbury

With so many people reporting sightings of unusual birds in their gardens I'm struggling to entice anything other than pigeons to my plot.

Garden bird: great titWith so many people reporting sightings of unusual birds in their gardens - and observing some pretty odd behaviour - I'm struggling to entice anything other than pigeons to my plot. I don't know if I should even take part in this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

Birds will only visit gardens where they feel safe. The ideal bird-friendly garden has a mixture of trees and shrubs for birds to shelter in, a lawn from which ground-feeding birds can forage for ants and worms, and a wild, grassy area, where birds such as sparrows can hunt for caterpillars and garden pests. A clean bird bath provides them with water to drink and clean their feathers (which enables them to insulate themselves against the cold).

There’s nothing like that in my garden, if I can even call it a garden. There will be soon, but that’s not much use to the birds now. I’ve diligently inspected my feeders for signs of disease, and emptied, cleaned and refilled them when they’ve needed it. But still the birds stayed away.

Then came the cold snap. I took to scattering peanuts, seed, cut apples, cooked pasta, and a small amount of Christmas pudding, biscuits and cake on the ground. Some pigeons turned up, and loved their post-Christmas treat, the neighbours were less excited. But the blue tits and great tits that I watch in the birch trees opposite just viewed my offerings with suspicion.

On twelfth night, my partner and I took down our Christmas tree. It was still green and had most of its needles intact, so we moved it to our bare garden and draped the spent mistletoe and holly berries in the branches. I hoped the tree would offer enough shelter for the birds brave enough to feed from the berries and adjacent feeders. And guess what? It worked. We now have wagtails (which are ground-feeding birds, so are not on the feeders, or the tree), and a lone blue tit. Not much for the Big Garden Birdwatch, but it’s a start.

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Gardeners' World Web User 14/01/2010 at 19:38

W Sheffield Great decrease in small birds Even in snow birds dont seem to want to visit bird feeders

Gardeners' World Web User 14/01/2010 at 20:21

During the worst of the weather I did not get so many birds, now, still snowy I have blue tits, coal tits,goldfinches, long-tailed tits, pigeons, chaffinches, thrush,fieldfare, siskins, woodpeckers, robins. My neighbour had a goldcrest and a friend sent me lovely photos of a woodcock in her snowy garden.Margaret, Cardross

Gardeners' World Web User 14/01/2010 at 21:39

I answered the call to feed the birds and went and bought three different feeders for peanuts, seed and fatballs. I trudged through the snow at the end of the garden and hung them out, two from the top of the arbour and another from the apple tree and waited for 3 days. NOTHING! So, very disappointed, I put out apple, orange, oats and a bit of pork fat I had, plus a container with water, on a tray which I put up on the top of the arbour. NOTHING! Meanwhile, my neighbour has dozens of little birds around his one, tiny, little feeder. I'm upset - where have I gone wrong? The garden has trees, grass, shrubs - what else can I do to lure the birds to my feeders?

Gardeners' World Web User 14/01/2010 at 22:40

I have kept up with replenishing my bird feeders and tables. Both hanging feeders and ground tables. I have always put suet granules out as well as different seed mixtures and suet blocks. I have a family of squirrels which visit but I found if I put some peanuts high up on a tree away from the other feeders it gives the small birds a chance. Over this terrible cold weather I have had more birds than ever. 5 x robins feeding together, which is not usual as they normally fight each other off. 10 x Blue Tits, then various, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Long Tailed Tits. I have a visiting Black Cap for the first time, a Song Thrush the first for ages, a Wren, Blackbirds, Green Finches, Chaffinches, a Bull Finch, then various, Pigeons, Mapgpies and a few Crows. I count myself lucky to see so many species so close to the house, and it is a struggle to get any work done when I have such a wonderful display. I have kept the bird baths free from ice every day and cleaned them thoroughly, as the birds still need their drink, and to clean their plummage to keep it in good condition. I put warm water in the baths which went down so well it looked like the local bird swimming baths.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/01/2010 at 23:33

I was delighted to see a mistle thrush in my garden until I watched it chase all the ground-feeders away. It's been feasting on apples but won't let the blackbirds near. I've had blue tits; great tits (& even long-tailed tits - not seen before) but hadn't seen the usual gold finches around until I saw just one today. Sun flower hearts are most popular in the feeders.

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