NATURE NOTES: Privilege to feed the birds and get to know them

At the start of a New Year, midwinter, when our gardens are at their most dowdy, there is one thing we can do to add some colour and movement to the outdoor space ... feed the birds.

Friday, 18th January 2019, 1:00 pm
Starling on peanuts.

Not only will you be doing your local wildlife a good turn, you will get hours of entertainment and activity from an otherwise wilted, dormant scene.

Just about everyone who has a garden can attract birds with food and water, no matter how urban or small the space, it’s just a case of adapting to your personal situation.

Tree and house sparrows on seed feeders.

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Over the years, we have operated a regular garden feeding regime in spaces as different as a tiny enclosed new garden on a newly built housing estate, to a narrow, terraced plot surrounded by mature woodland and now in a rural coastal garden.

We have thoroughly enjoyed every one and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

How do you go about attracting as wide a range of species into the garden as possible? For a start, location is a factor.

People with large, well-grown, gardens in remote rural areas are bound to get more visitors than those who have a small back yard, but that shouldn’t detract from the pleasure you get from getting to know ‘your own’ birds like never before, almost making them a part of your family.

Great spotted woodpecker on peanuts.

First of all you need either a bird table or one of those metal spiked stands that look like a hat stand to hang feeders from.

Position it somewhere with easy access and visibility but close to cover where a bird can dash to hide when disturbed.

Keep things in proportion. Put out just enough food, at first, that will get eaten pretty quickly.

The birds empty my own feeders every day before dark. There is a temptation here to keep adding more and more, but resist.

The key is to pace yourself. It is much better to feed a handful of food every single day without fail, than to just fill all the feeders for a week, then leave them empty for a month when the cost becomes too expensive.

With trial and error you will find out how many birds you will get coming in, on average, and feed an amount that suits your pocket.

In my own garden, I have a four port seed feeder, a niger seed feeder and two peanut feeders.

This in itself takes quite a lot of food to keep going, but even if I doubled the amount it would just bring in more and more birds that I couldn’t afford to feed so keep things simple.

Once you start to feed in the winter, try to keep it up until at least the end of April or early May.

The early spring can be the hardest time for garden birds, as most of the autumn harvest has gone and the new sources of food have not yet begun to appear, so it is important to keep things regular during this time.

Here, we feed every single day of the year, only stopping the peanuts during the breeding season, but adding more soft foods such as mealworms, cheese and soft brown bread crumbs as a replacement.

Select food and feeders to suit the habitat. If you have a garden with tall trees, then peanuts and fatty products will be very popular but these same things in a garden surrounded by open fields may be left uneaten.

In an open situation concentrate on seed feeders both hanging and on the ground.

Do a little homework on the internet to see what a particular species will eat and does that species occur nearby.

Finally, sit back and enjoy the soap opera that will unfold before you. Get to know the individuals and what they get up to.

We once had a blackbird that came to us for two years and even fed from the hand. He brought his brood of juveniles to be fed in the spring and fought off invading blackbirds arriving for the winter.

Maybe you will get to know an individual too, it’s a real privilege.

Twitter: @Stewchat