Sunday, 11 October 2020

Birds: how to get the "right" ones!

 I've written before about how to lure birds into your garden - but the problem can often be, not so much getting birds into your garden, but being overwhelmed by the “wrong sort” of birds.

Articles about feeding birds always have pictures of a perky robin or two, some colourful finches, a couple of plump blackbirds, some cheerful blue tits, and maybe a dear little wren. 

 In real life you are more likely to be invaded by a swarm of pigeons, heckled by a mob of starlings, threatened by magpies, or to have your feeders stripped by squirrels.

It's easy to find information about what sort of birds like what sort of food, and what sort of feeder - we all know that blue tits will cling like limpets to fat balls, or half a coconut shell filled with suet, and that finches like seeds from a high-hung tube - so but what about the less attractive ones?

Pigeons, starlings and magpies will, unfortunately, eat anything from anywhere, and it can be a bit of shock to find a garden full of them, scoffing away like gannets (another unwelcome garden visitor - fortunately, an infrequent one).

The trick is to break them of the habit of coming to your garden: by making your feeding areas unwelcoming to them, they will find other places to go.

The easiest way to do this is to use size-restricted feeders: those with an outer cage around an inner food section. This prevents the bigger birds from feeding - although they will still scavenge around the ground underneath it, for scattered leftovers. 


To make this happen in my small garden, I converted my bird house feeder - left - into a size-restricted zone by inserting small canes all round the edges so that larger birds could not get in, and adding some short lengths of cane on the ridge, sticking out at odd angles.

As you can see, the pigeons were still very interested in it, so I added a plastic kiddy's windmill to the top.

This was intended to discourage the pigeons from landing on the top of it, and it worked surprisingly well. The pigeons no longer even try to land there, but the smaller birds take no notice at all of it whirring round. 


It looks a bit like a miniature prisoner-of-war camp but it certainly keeps out the larger birds - although not the squirrels, as you can see from the photo, right.

 Yes, look closely, you can see the pesky squirrel is actually sitting in the feed dish... 

So, apart from fortification, how else can you select the "nicer" birds?

To deter starlings, feed your birds early in the morning - starlings are not early risers, so if you get the food out good and early, the blackbirds and smaller ones will have a chance to clear it before the scavengers arrive.

This also goes for squirrels: if you put out just enough food for “your” birds, they will clear it quickly and there won't be any left for the squirrels.

Finally, the trick to training anything is to be consistent: I always fill my feeders first thing in the morning. Every year, a few weeks into the cold weather, I come downstairs to find a row of blackbirds sitting on the fence, waiting for me. They fly away as soon as I open the door, and they take quite a few minutes to return, so they're not exactly tame: but they certainly know when to expect the food.

This is even more useful if you are lucky enough to have a regular robin or two in your garden: if you whistle a simple phrase every time you go out with the food, they will learn to expect you, and will appear when you whistle - which is just lovely!



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