Winter Twitchings

Have you noticed more birds in your garden lately?  Have you seen, while walking from one place to another, how you can see more birds and hear more calls?

Birdwatching is very cool

I’ve noticed a change lately in the not only the amount of birds that visit our garden but also the type.  I’ve also noticed more bird calls too while stepping from place to place.  First of all it was the crew of starlings that decided to gather in an oak tree, then it was the pair of blackbirds that finally took bird seed from the garden and along my walks I’ve spotted quite a few swans and geese.

Now I’m not a very good twitcher.

I know all the main birds like robins and wood pigeons, and I can tell a seagull from a crow but I don’t know particular species of seagulls and I still get fuddled at a quick sight of a big black bird to wonder whether it might be a crow or a rook.  But that’s the great thing about birds – they are always there to spot and I’m slowly increasing my knowledge through spending more and more time out doors.

However while the weather remains somewhat unpredictable and causes much of the countryside to be muddy and boggy there is one place that you can guarantee a great spot for watching birds – the garden and now is the perfect time to be looking because if you put food out for the birds, they will come in.

Tips for attracting birds into your garden

Now I’m in no way a professional in this field, I too have much to learn.  There appears to be quite a multitude of formulas when it comes to attracting and spotting birds but here are just a few things I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Beware of cats.  Even if you don’t have a cat it won’t be long before your garden is visited by a neighbours cat once they know you’re feeding birds.  So place any feeders away from kitty paws and distance any feeders far away to stop a cat from jumping and leaping onto the sitting birds.  Having said that though, I have three (oh, make that four) cats that regularly visit.  I have no idea where they come from and I can almost check my clock by the one and yet still the birds do come and visit.
  2. Check the weather.  Either it’s my imagination of birds don’t tend to feed when it’s either very windy or very wet.  On a clear day, with moderate to no breeze I get more action in the garden.
  3. Check the time.  Same applies for the time of day.  Around 8am, 10am, 2pm, and 4pm seem to be the main events.  Again, whether this is just fluke or not I don’t know but if you want to be selective about your viewing time I’d say these are good times.
  4. Experiment with different feeds and don’t be afraid to mix it up.  If you look at a packet of most bird feed it’s going to contain feed according to the birds that like it.  So corn for ring-necks, sunflowers for blue tits, and cereal grains for sparrows and black birds.  If you’ve got a table then put on there food that only table eating feeders will enjoy, and similarly if you’ve only got hanging feeders then be sure to get the peanuts and sunflower seeds.
  5. Bird feed is big business these days.  You can spend as little or as much on bird feed as you want and it can get very pricey.  I’m on both sides of the issues here.  On the one hand the better quality feed you can buy the more the birds will enjoy it and return again and again for their desired food but on the other I do wonder what birds did before shelled peanuts and grade-I sunflower seeds came along?   I’ve tried both cheap and expensive feed and I think ultimately it comes down to the local environment you’re garden sits in, as much as anything else so don’t worry too much.  If you do buy the good stuff then buy in bulk (10kg upwards) and share the cost with friends and family, neighbours and even allotment buddies.
  6. Don’t be disheartened if you’ve bought a load of food, put it all in various places and not one bird arrives.  If you haven’t fed the birds in a while (or ever), it takes them a few days to realise it’s there.  Once they do though they will be coming back regularly as a source of food which at this time of year is a big responsibility so be sure to have enough feed to continuously put out for them until the milder weather starts.
  7. Don’t get freaky about rats and mice.  The key to keeping both away is to make sure you don’t over feed the birds leaving piles of food untouched.  Little and often is best for feeding birds.  In all the years I’ve been feeding birds I’ve only ever had one rat in the garden and that was because our boundary fence was covered in nettles and other weeds allowing cover for the rat to move in and out of the garden to it’s den easily.  Once it was cleared away and all gaps in the fence sealed it was never seen again (and that’s with having a composter too).
  8. Get a good seat at the window, sit back, relax and just spend some time looking out into your lovely garden.  Depending on how far away the feed and feeders are you might need binoculars which can really bring the minute detail and personality of the birds to life when they have been spotted.

The longer you spend viewing the more you’ll see and I’ll guarantee you won’t be disappointed!  In fact the garden is only the beginning, once you get to recognise the birds easily in the garden you’ll also start to spot them about on your day to day travels too.  It’s quite possibly addictive viewing!

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Cover photo courtesy of 2guitars

3 thoughts on “Winter Twitchings

  1. I haven’t had much action in the garden so far but I think the mild weather and the exceptional berry harvest last autumn have meant that here in a village the birds have found enough food in the surrounding countryside without needing to come into gardens. January to April is when they struggle more, so I will have another go at putting food out.

    I have just bought some bird seed from from Vine House Farm near Spalding. They grow most of the seed they sell and their site is full of interesting information.

    Re crows and rooks – I find myself assuming that they are crows when hanging out in a ploughed field and rooks when making a lot of noise atop tall trees. However I think the old saying, of which there are several versions, is more reliable: one rook’s a crow; two crows are rooks. That is to say crows are solitary and rooks are unbelievably social.

    Just been reading Crow Country by Mark Cocker – fascinating stuff.

    • I’ve been paying much closer attention to wildlife in general this year but not noticed before but you’re right of course, Jan is definitely the start of the harsh months for the birds. Such an increase in activity on the feeders now. It’s made me also think that I shall have to plant more berry based shrubs to be able to feed the birds over a longer period.

      Thanks for the crow/rook tip! I use that when I’m out and about now. I will check that book out because they are very interesting birds to watch.

      Wishing you a lovely week :-)

  2. I remember seeing the rooks when we were touring in the UK a while back. I had to ask what they were (giant crows?). And as for birdseed, I do a double-take when I see it at the store, I love seeds and it looks like me-food.

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