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  • caldun09

The feeding and behaviour of garden birds

Updated: May 13, 2023

I have several bird feeders in my back garden, and every year I feed the bird world peanuts and fat balls mainly from the month of October until May when I see most of the fledgling newly born birds hopping around the garden with proud parents foraging for them and teaching them the necessary skills of providing for themselves. It is a joy to watch them all fussing and hopping around the garden digging for worms and other garden tit bits making them self-sufficient.

Last Halloween I made a small discovery. We had bought two Halloween fruit cakes and we had some left-over cake surplus to our requirements. We said we would dispose of it in the compost bin for convenience until yours truly said we might give some to the birds. This was debated with the warning from senior management that we might just be inviting rodents and other four-legged unwelcome guests too close to the house. Another member of the clan said that you should not feed bread or chocolate to birds as it had no food value for them. He told me that when you feed chocolate to dogs that it can damage their health. I assured him that we would not be giving his dog chocolate because that was a food that would never get that far as long as yours truly with the sweet tooth was about.

Anyway, when I had the peace and quiet of the house to myself, I cut up some slices of the fruit cake with the beginnings of a mould on it and broke it into small pieces and scattered it around the lawn.

Well, you never in all your life saw such birdie excitement. They seemed to be coming from everywhere. They must all have been tweeting on their twitter accounts at the same time to inform their birdie friends of the Halloween fest in Mick’s Garden. We had blackbirds, thrushes, male and female, robins, starlings, blue tits, great tits, éin de gach sórt and then of course the voracious crows zoomed in and hoovered up everything in sight.

It was time to replenish supplies. I armed myself with a breadknife and chopping board and duly carved up the rest of the cake into inch square segments and scattered it around the lawn and so it happened that our mouldy fruit cake was quickly guzzled down the throats of so many of my feathered birdie friends.

When I thought about it afterwards sure the brack was full of fruit and fat and everything that any connoisseur of good birdie food would delight in.

I have followed up on this practise giving them a few bits of cake at Christmas and at birthdays. There always seems to be some left-over pastry or cake after family celebrations. In former times yours truly would have scoffed any remaining pieces left over after the weekend. Now in these more health-conscious times when we must watch blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol I call on my avian friends for Monday morning assistance and they love to help. It is a much healthier option for me, and my birdie friends arrive now expecting their Monday morning treat and are happy out with the treats.

There is a pattern I have noticed lately. Birds have no sense of smell, I think, but somehow get very used to coming regularly to a place where they know they will get peanuts or some snack.

Occasionally, especially in warm weather we get bananas going black and neither of us like the oversweet taste of them and have in the past dumped them in the compost bin. Another member of the family uses some by making banana bread for the kids but that requires effort and the inclination to make the bread when the bananas are on the apex of their ripeness curve. And you just might not be in baking mode at ripeness time.

Once again, its birdie time. They just love mashed over ripe bananas and they are also inclined to peck at the skin. I will now have birds full of fruit and that can cause a problem with avian stomach motions and parked cars can sometimes be at the receiving end of unwelcome deposits from passing birds in flight. I might not be too popular with my neighbouring four wheeled friends if they discover the source of the newly improved looseness in our birdie bowel movements and consequent adornments on their windscreens and bonnets.

Likewise with ripening apples and pears. Birds seem to love them and to peck them avidly on the odd occasion we put them out.

During feeding times, I note the behaviour of all our birds, but I just love the peculiarities of the black birds. One black bird comes to the fringe of the lawn with tail nervously in the air and then takes a few tentative hops towards the food supply. Then they nervously hop back under the shelter of a tree and get on the twitter account calling his or her mate who arrive quickly enough. In turn they will do the blackbird hop out to the food source, grab a bite, and hop back under the shelter to devour the grub and have a right chit chat. They seem to lack self-confidence. It’s for all the world like two people in a snug having a right chin wag asking about the young folk. This routine is repeated several times.

The starlings are a different breed. They usually come in groups and confidently devour everything around them quickly.

The crows with their excellent eyesight are a joy to behold. First one flies over the garden, glances down and sees the grub. Then we see a few more of the friends beginning to assemble on a tall ash tree and the caw caw cawing starts. The first crow that flew over on the reconnaissance flight had gone on twitter and alerted the mates to a food source. Then at the right moment they will all swoop down and clean out the food in seconds.

I love all those birds, but they were under constant threat from local cats who just seemed to love the loose clay in our garden as a depository for their bowel movement. So, when yours truly was down weeding there was regular contact with cat poo which was not the most pleasant of experiences. I had tried throwing loose bits of lemon and some pellets I had obtained in the garden centre around the garden, but this did not deter them entering my hallowed space. They left me their poo which they duly covered with clay waiting for me to handle it. Poo Poo.Then I discovered a cat repellent which used 2 nine-volt batteries and my cat friends now get a little friendly reminder not to enter and they deposit in some other persons flower bank. I can now do weeding in a safer environment.

We were recently asked to look after a cat while some of the family were on holidays. We got our instructions about where the food was kept and where her water container was kept. We duly followed instructions and on day one cat arrived, we opened side window as instructed and in she came to the utility door and scoffed her food. We were under strict instructions not to let her sleep on the couch in the very warm weather while they were away and that she would sleep in her summer quarters outside. This worked well on day two and three. On day four we waited and waited but no cat arrived. So, we rang the bosses and were told to leave the food outside, which we did.

When we came back in the morning the bowl was bare and totally cleaned out of food. We were delighted that Whiskers had visited during the night and so put in a few more cat nuts. We had barely turned around the corner when the crows swooped and devoured the lot.

I checked with some friends who knew about these things, only to be told the crows favourite food is cat and dog nuts. We learn something new every day.

Anyway, when the folks arrived back from holidays Whiskers, the cat, arrived in, starved and hungry looking, but was very happy to see the family home again. I don’t think we will be asked to do cat minding again. M

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