It’s already been a tough year for the wild birds. In fact, according to surveys, they’ve just had their worst breeding season ever – or at least since records began. The dismal spring and summer weather meant that the insect food that so many species rely on for feeding their young wasn’t around when they needed it. Add to that the cool, wet conditions which were chilling the young while they were still in the nest and, in some cases, flooding or washing the nests away, and you have a really difficult season for our birds. The only species to have a reasonable breeding season was the blackbird – largely because they feed their young on worms and beetles which don’t mind the damp.
After such a disastrous breeding season, it seems only right to be putting some extra food out to help the garden birds through the winter months. Then, when next spring arrives (and next year will be better – surely), they should be in tip top condition and ready to nest. The natural food in the garden is running down. The sunflower seeds were long ago stripped from the heads left on this summer’s plants, and the blackbirds who hang out at the bottom of our garden have just about finished off the windfall apples. Of course, there is still the compost heap. The birds are spending long hours foraging on the heap, and making a big mess as they throw things around while they search for food.
Like thousands of other people, we supplement the natural food in the garden with bird seed, peanuts and fat balls. The bird feeders hang on an elder growing in the hedge near the garage. The elder makes a good feeding station – the birds can hop down from the hedge and we can watch them from the kitchen window, everyone is happy! There used to be a bird table as well, but the local pheasant was forever trying to land on the table and knocked it over so many times that we gave up. The pheasant still hangs around – picking up bits of food that fall from the feeders. And the feeders attract pretty much the entire UK sparrow population – well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it does sometimes feel like they’re all here in our garden. A noisy, cheeping mixture of house and tree sparrows descend every morning to eat a huge amount of bird seed and devour fat balls by the dozen. They’re lovely to watch, but I think the sheer numbers of them – thirty or more at a time, puts the other birds off visiting our feeders. We get the odd robin and an occasional brave blue tit, but mostly it’s a gang of sparrows.
Which birds are visiting your garden?