Monday, 29 November 2021

The trouble with feeding the birds....

...especially if you offer seed, to attract finches....

 .... as I was doing, last winter: here's my seed feeder, hanging on the fence and extremely popular with the little birdies, as you can see by the low level of the seed in it.

So what is the problem?

The problem is.....

... that you get a forest of"crop" seedlings underneath it - particularly if you have shingle, which is apparently the perfect growing medium for birdseed!

Lovely, huh?

I see this repeated everywhere I go, even when people buy seed which has been treated and is allegedly "non germinating".

Even if you position your bird feeders on a patio, you will still find that the seeds will grow - in the cracks or joins between the slabs, usually, which can be very ugly, and quite destructive.

Sometimes it can be interesting: for example, one Client asked me to move her birdfeeder to a different position, and to dig over the bed on which it stood, replanting the area with some perennials.

Two weeks later, these guys started popping up:

How exciting! 

What on earth are they?

Yes, I know what they are really, I'm just trying to build some suspense...

It's Nicandra physalodes, commonly known as Shoo Fly. I don't know why. They don't repel flies.  Cursory internet research suggests that no-one else knows why, either...

If you're not familiar with this plant, well, it's a weed, properly speaking, although you will find the seeds for sale, bizarrely. It's not particularly attractive to bees:  the flowers - which are blue, and moderately attractive - open for a short time, just a couple of hours, then they are done: and the plant itself can get quite big, but is also quite lax, so it ends up flopping around all over your bed. 

So it's not really a "worthwhile" plant in the garden.

But it was interesting to see it, along with various cereal crops - millet, wheat (that was exciting!), and several that I couldn't immediately identify, and didn't dare leave for too long, as they were getting quite big. 

There is a case to be made, for leaving some of them to grow, then harvesting the seeds... free bird food! But most of the time, they are just scruffy, untidy weeds, cluttering up your border (or in my case, my shingle) and detracting from the general beauty of the garden.

And what is the moral of this tale?

I won't be feeding the finches, this year. I'll stick to fat-balls in cages, for the little birdies which I like to see - I always laugh at the sparrows, pretending to be blue tits:


..but if you want to attract birds but not plants, then here is a quick summary of how to reduce the mess, and reduce the amount of weeding you might have to do.

Firstly, buy the right product:- 

Niger seed is sterile, so it won't germinate.

Fat balls/suet logs or slabs = no germination. Presumably the seeds within in have been cooked...

Meal worms = do not grow into plants! 

Sunflower hearts/hulled sunflower seeds = processed, so they won't germinate

Avoid cheap bird seed, it will have a high proportion of cheap "filler" seed such as Milo, and Millet: avoid Milo in particular, as birds tend not to eat it! It's a type of grass, the seeds look very similar to Millet.

Choose a "no mess" bird seed: they remove the husks and other bits of inedible material, so the birds don't have to rootle through it (flinging it about as they do so) in order to reach the good stuff.  Allegedly.

So there you go, some simple advice on how to feed the birds this winter, without spending the whole of next year weeding!

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