Garden Birds

A blue tit at the peanuts

The previous owner of my house left a bird feeder in the shed so I decided to see what sort of birds would come if I put it up. The feeder has quite a wide mesh so I bought a sack of peanuts, filled it up, and suspended from one of the trees.

Almost immediately a group of starlings arrived and took turns at pecking at the contents. I know that some starlings are resident all year round, but there is an annual influx of migratory birds around autumn. It seems a bit early for the continental starlings which usually start to turn up in October. Anyway, they seem ravenously hungry but are rather messy eaters and keep dropping bits on the ground.

The principal beneficiary of the starlings’ messiness is a robin, whose tactic is to wait underneath for peanuts from above. It does not seem keen to attempt the acrobatics needed to feed directly from the feeder. Sparrows do this too, but not when the robin is around as the robin chases them off; robins are feisty little critters. This one isn’t afraid to have a go at the much larger starlings if they descend to ground level.

There are at least two blue tits that visit the garden but they rarely get the chance to get at the peanuts before being scared off by yet more starlings. The picture above is an exception.

To help the smaller birds I bought a second feeder with a finer mesh that the starlings can’t get into this and filled it with mixed seed. The blue tits have this to themselves but obviously like the nuts too and will go to that feeder if there are no starlings.

Yesterday one of the many resident jackdaws tried the peanut feeder but failed in its mission as it was too big to hang on.

So far apart from those mentioned above I’ve also seen a chaffinch and a great tit but mainly it’s been blue tits and starlings. Of course I’m not in during the day so there might well be other species of garden visitor that I don’t see.

I’m thinking of getting a third feeder (for fat balls, etc) but I’m told that around here that will just mean a garden permanently full of rooks jackdaws and magpies. Any suggestions for alternative feeding mechanisms that might attract a wider variety of birdlife are welcome!

18 Responses to “Garden Birds”

  1. If you want to attract smaller birds you can get feeders that are specifically for smaller birds. We have a number of these in the garden which I fill with sunflower hearts which they really like – so much so that I now buy the birdseed in 20 kg bags! We have many types of finches, as well as robins and sparrows. Also have some larger birds living in the garden including blackbirds and magpies, who eat the seed that spills from the feeders.

    Unfortunately recently we have also have attracted a sparrowhawk, due to the large number of birds that live in the garden. It has killed two pigeons in the garden and the other day attacked one of the magpies, but was chased off.

    If you have a garden, having bird feeders is something I would strongly recommend – their presence really makes the garden ‘more alive’.

    Probably not so important at this time of year, but its also good to put out fresh water for the birds, as it can be difficult for them to find fresh water in urban areas, especially when warm.

    Finally if you start feeding the birds on a regular basis, you will need to continue this (or at least don’t just suddenly stop) as they will come to depend on it.

    • My Mam’s garden had visits from a sparrowhawk but magpies would gang up and drive it off.

    • I think it is wonderful that you got a sparrowhawk. These birds deserve a place, too. Our feeders in Minnesota USA, including a suet feeder, are getting finches, chickadees (similar to a tit), nuthatches, cardinals, flickers, blue jays, woodpeckers, and several migrants starting their journey south. We also got a Cooper hawk in the yard on one occasion, but I did not see it harvest anything (wish it would reduce our chipmunk and rabbit population a bit!).

      My mother in northern Wisconsin, USA, had to put away her bird feeder when a family of black bears found it and then would not leave it alone.

  2. Sandra De Weirdt Says:

    What a lovely story, and very recognizable indeed 🙂

  3. Have you ever visited the Cornell Ornithology Bird Labs site? You could check out the feeders they use.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    If you are thinking of getting a cat, I wouldn’t encourage the birds too much.

  5. You could set up a camera of some sort to see what the birds and others get up to when you’re not in.

  6. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I had a great uncle who hated birds, but liked birdhouses, of which he had several in his garden. I realized that there was no conflict when I noticed that, instead of an entrance hole, there was just a painted black circle. 😦

  7. Can’t beat seed feeders. We also get sparrowhawks. One took a bullfinch of the feeder. Clearly had misunderstood the term ‘bird feeder’. We have to be careful not to overfeed as the spills attract not just mice but also a badger.

    • We also have a badger, a fox and a hedgehog that make regular visits. Unfortunately also two neighbourhood cats but they’ve never caught any of the birds – yet!

  8. Hamish Johnston Says:

    Whack together a birdhouse from six pieces of wood and put it about 3m up a tree or wall, facing north. Those blue tits will move in come spring.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      It should have a nonflat roof for the same obvious reason that architects seem to have forgotten in the 20th century. Also, the entrance hole must be small or other larger birds will use it – and, being larger, are stronger and win fights over it. It is surprising how small the hole should be for blue tits and to exclude sparrows – this is worth checking in a book, as it is hard to guess.

      Might I use this blog to recommend two wonderful books written soon after World War 2, “Living with Birds” and “Birds as Individuals” by Len Howard? Gwendolyn Howard was a professional musician who lived in a house up a farm track in rural Sussex long before commuterisation, and she had something of the St Francis about her – she managed to get to know many birds individually, and they would come when she called them. Some even slept on her pillow. She liked blue tits as the nicest species, and found robins aggressive. She says that birds live faster than humans and are driven primarily by fear of people. She also analysed birdsong musicologically – a 12-point scale, as I recall.

      • The composer Olivier Messiaen made an extensive study of birdsong, which he transcribed into musical notation. It’s generally atonal.

      • This morning two jackdaws and a magpie made clumsy attempts to raid the peanut feeder, without success. As soon as they left the blue tit was back on it. Yesterday a hooded crow sat on the wall eyeing the goings-on in sinister fashion, but didn’t make a move. I have a feeling some of these crows might hatch a plot to knock the feeder off and get at the contents when it has fallen to the ground.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Birds and tits and small holes. I couldn’t possibly comment.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Even so, it’s sweeter to listen to than most atonal music…

  9. Matthew Motyka Says:

    I would recommend providing dried mealworms and niger seeds, in addition to peanuts, to attract more diversity. I’m enchanted by my bird feeding station (essentially a glorified coat stand covered in hooks), and from which I suspend various feeders: wheat-free bird mix (which is meant to put off rats and pigeons, but which doesn’t); niger seeds for goldfinches, and which usually arrive in pairs; peanuts for tits etc. plus wilko sell cheap bags of dried mealworms which always go down well with my local house sparrows, robins, blackbirds, and also this year, a couple of mistle thrushes. Birds obviously still need to build their fat reserves for winter so I put out suet blocks, and which everything has a peck at, though as you’ve been warned, it attracts a gang of magpies, which always descend on my garden like a group of adolescent boys. I understand why the collective noun for them is a ‘mischief’. I’ve also suspended a squirrel deterrent upside down, which acts as a bowl for collecting the suet crumbs , as it was also attracting rats, and which my local pest controller advised me to do. Importantly though, it sounds as though you’re enjoying the wildlife visiting your garden.

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