Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A bird obsession looming?

Over the years I have seen so many impressive photos of birds on people’s gardening blogs, and I would really like to take some myself - would make a nice change from all the flower photos I usually take in my garden. I have realised that in order to take successful bird photos you also need to feed them, as by feeding the birds you have a way of getting the birds come to you.

So that’s why I last Christmas bought a feeding system for small birds, and a large bag of bird seeds. I put the feed pole in the middle of my garden, close to the big camellia and several obelisks, so the birds would have something to both hide in and perch on before hopping onto the feeder. In any case, my garden is only 4.7m wide so it’s not exactly a long stretch from one fence to the other. The feeder stood there, full of seeds for a whole 6 weeks without being touched. No birds seemed remotely interested in it at all. It snowed, it rained, it was nice warm weather, it was cold, it was warm again – no bird arrived to show any interest and the bird feeder was just as full as when I filled it. (Click to see large photos.)

It’s not as if I don’t have any birds around me, the most obvious ones are the woodpigeons in resident, on my roof. I have had wood pigeons on my roof non-stop since I moved in here more than 11 years ago, not sure if the same ones come and stay for more than 1 season, but that half chimney pipe must be very popular among the local pigeon population, as it is always occupied. The current family consist of 2 parents and 2 chicks, the chicks were already flying in early February, which is quite early. It is a bit of a spectacle every year when the parents teach the chicks to fly, and they take off on the roof and fly to the tall conifer in my garden, encouraging the chicks to follow. Sometimes the chicks don’t manage the stretch to the tree and have to land down in my garden, and the parents will perch on my fences, make a lot of noise and try to persuade the chicks to continue their journey off to safety. Not always easy, as take-off from my garden is much more difficult than from a tree or a roof. It is hilarious to watch them at times!

UPDATE: As Sue has pointed out for me in her comment, what I thought was the woodpigeons two chicks is actually not at all their chicks but a different type of birds that have decided to live together with the woodpigeons! They are collared doves, which are smaller than woodpigeons. I did think it was unusual to see chicks as early in the year as now. Incidentally, after reading more about woodpigeons and collared doves, I now know that the woodpigeons babies are not called chicks but squabs! Amazing what you can find via Google :-)

But back to feeding the birds. Since no one seemed interested in the feeding pole in the location I had it, I moved it to next to the tall conifer. I was hoping that the birds would feel more secure with the feeder right under the canopy. I know I have some sparrows in my garden, I have seen them and heard them, so I hoped they would come and eat from the feeder. I also hung up some suet balls as I read that sparrows would be more interested in suet balls in the winter than normal mixed seeds. I bought a dedicated suet ball cage and hung it in the tree where I have a passion flower, next to the tall conifer. Finally I bought some sunflower seeds, but didn’t have a feeder for those so I just used a take-away tray for the sunflower seeds. Now the sparrows could come and eat! But only the wood pigeons took the invitation.


Here is the tall conifer in my garden, it is so tall that I struggle to take pictures of it so normally you only see the trunk of the tree not the canopy. I have pruned away most of the branches, or else it would have taken a quarter of the garden space – that’s why it looks like a palm tree and not like the cedar tree it actually is.

The pigeons clearly enjoy the seed mix, here they are two chicks and one parent. I’m sorry the photos aren’t any better than this, I don’t have a proper zoom lens so this is as good as I can get it with my camera. I have considered getting a 55-250mm lens for my camera, and I have found a place where they sell them second hand, but even second hand they are around £100. That’s a lot of money for a lens I don’t really need for anything else than when I have to be far away, like taking pictures of birds. You see, I have tried taking pictures of them when I am out in the garden, but they just fly away as soon as I try to approach them. I don’t really have that problem with my plants and flowers!

So these pictures of the birds are taken indoors, through my kitchen window, which is not ideal, and which makes me quite far away from the feeders, around 10-12 meters away. I could certainly need a better lens, but I am just not sure how often I would sit in my window watching out for the right moment where a bird would fly in so I could take a picture. Would I do it often enough to justify buying a lens for £100? Not sure yet, certainly not as long as I haven’t seen much birds at all yet, apart from the pigeons that live on my roof. I have seen a few sparrows, that’s true, and I have seen one bird that looks like a sparrow on steroids. Not sure what kind of bird it is, I am hopeless with bird names, it looks like a big sparrow with longer, bigger legs - a sparrow on steroids. I have also seen a couple of crows and seagulls, but only flying over the roofs here, not in my garden That’s it really.

I bought a birdbath, thought it might attract some smaller birds to come regularly, and it has been used, I can see the water has been splashed around a couple of times on days when it has not been raining. And one day I found a feather in the water. Yes, the birdbath has definitely been visited, but by whom? Could be just the wood pigeons again, I don’t really know, I haven’t caught any birds drinking or splashing around in it yet so I have no idea. If nothing else I think the birdbath looks decorative in the garden, it’s the only kind of water feature I have so if the birds won’t use it I can certainly regard at it as an ornament in the garden!

The expensive fat balls with bird seeds incorporated have not been very popular in my garden. As you can see something has had a nibble on them, but that’s hardly noticeable. Definitely not a hit, and I have another 12 balls in my kitchen, waiting to be eaten. There was no instruction with the fat balls so I don’t know how long they will last, I assume it is like with lard, that they will go off eventually. At the moment I just keep them in a cupboard with the bird seeds, but perhaps I should keep them in the fridge? If anyone can offer some advice on storing the fat balls I would appreciate it.

The sunflower seeds proved a lot more popular in my garden, they got eaten quite quickly every time I filled up that take-away tray so I decided to replace the tray with something a bit more substantial. This little bird house has a drawer for seeds and is easy to fill up when necessary. I have actually seen a few sparrows flying in and getting some seeds in the bird house a few times, they don’t perch on the drawer, they just kind of fly past it and nip one seed out and then quickly turn around and fly off. Not sure why they don’t sit down for a longer meal, I should think the edge of the drawer would be a perfect perching place – but what do I know, I’m not exactly a sparrow! But the sparrows have been few and far between, I have wondered if the pigeons have helped themselves to the sunflower seeds too, since the seeds got eaten so quickly every time I filled up the drawer.

But hey, here’s the culprit! Sorry this picture isn’t very good, but can you see something inside the bird house? That’s definitely not a sparrow, and certainly not a wood pigeon! (Click to emlarge.)


Here he goes, scurrying down after a feast on my sunflower seeds meant for the sparrows!!


So there you have it, my garden should now be an inviting place for different kinds of birds, but at the moment I am feeding four woodpigeons and one, maybe several squirrels. Not exactly what I was planning to do! I don’t think there is any big risk of a bird obsession just yet...Today we have had a ferocious weather, with stormy, ice cold winds and snow - spring is not exactly on the agenda, but that can change completely in a week or two. Hopefully when spring arrives properly, some more birds will come to my garden too. I am not sure if the woodpigeons are keeping the smaller birds away, but when it comes to my cat I’m quite relaxed. The cat and I sat on my bench here the other day, with three of the pigeons sitting on the feeding pole eating. The pigeons didn’t mind me and the cat and the cat couldn’t care less about the pigeons eating at the other end of the garden – he was just relaxing on my lap. I think my cat is too old to be chasing the birds, he knows he can’t get them. When it comes to the squirrel though he might have a go, a rather half-hearted one, which the squirrel will win every time.

The snow didn’t settle today, it was just a lot of flurries in the air and not much on the ground. Hopefully this will be it, but we might get another round of snow next week so that lovely warm spring I had on order hasn’t been delivered yet! I hope you have better gardening weather were you are, until next time, take care.

32 comments:

  1. Hi Helene, This post made me smile. I think that bird bath will help draw more birds in. I agree, it is a nice looking decoration for the garden. I don't know which birds like what. Larry, my husband gets mixes of some kind, and we get safflower seeds, because the squirrels supposedly don't eat them. Larry likes to feed the squirrels, too, though, which I'm not thrilled about.

    Thanks for your visit and comment on my blog. I hope we both get warmer weather soon.

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    1. Hi Sue, thanks for the tip about safflower, I think I will try that for a while and see if the British squirrels like it or not. Here in Britain, the grey squirrels are considered a nuisance or even a pest. They might be cute to look at when they are running around playing, but they do a lot of damage in our gardens!

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  2. First let me say, I love the look of your garden: the pebble path, the arbor, the wood edging ... You've given your garden great bones, as they say! As to the birds, it sounds very frustrating. Do you know what kind of birds are in your area, and what their food preferences are? I'm sure that the water will help, as it is harder to find than food in settled areas.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment about my garden, I do like the tidy look it gives.

      I know what kind of birds I am supposed to have, I forgot to include it in my post but this is the top 10 garden birds for my local area:
      1. House sparrow
      2. Blue tit
      3. Woodpigeon
      4. Feral pigeon
      5. Starling
      6. Great tit
      7. Blackbird
      8. Robin
      9. Magpie
      10. Goldfinch

      So far I have only seen pigeons and sparrrows in my garden, I think, but I am certainly no expert on birds!
      The food I have bought, plus the sunflower seeds should be right for most of these.

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  3. Interesting, don't give up with feeding birds. In our garden we have rather a lot of birds but my husband wanted them nearer to the house, so he hang birdfeeders from the ceiling on the verandah. It took months before they came, but now there come quite a few, mostly titmice, a robin and blackbirds. We don't have grey squirrels here and I know they are sometimes a nuisance in your country, but I like them, they look so cute. I think your birdbath is indeed a nice waterfeature in your garden.

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    1. I have thought about buying a few more bird feeders and hang them on the fence, to get the birds closer to the window and my camera, but I thought I would make them comfortable eating at the bottom of my garden first. I won't give up, hopefully warmer weather will bring more birds.

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  4. The two 'baby woodpigeons' are collared dives Helene a different species. If you go to the sidebar on my blog and click on the goldfinch you can see the birds we get in the garden with names, Some of the photos are quite small but may help.

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    1. Thank you Sue for correcting me, as I wrote in my post, I don’t really know much about birds! The wood pigeons on my roof usually have chicks every year, but I have never seen any chicks as early as February, so I thought it was a bit strange having these big, flying chicks already, usually I don’t see any chicks until April. So they are collared doves, and not wood pigeons at all. All four live in that half chimney pipe and don’t fly off for very long before they return, I do wonder if that means there are no chicks on the way this year? I suppose time will tell!

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  5. Hi Helene
    Oh I love pigeons. During summertime we've got two around in our garden. I love the sound they make. Hey, and the photo from the squirrel is super, most my photos of them aren't very sharp, they are too quick for me.
    Have a lovely day!
    Alex

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    1. I can't say I love pigeons and doves, and I certainly don't love the sound they make, I don’t mind that low, almost purring sound they often make when they are eating but that hooting sound they make for hours on end when they sit on my roof sometimes goes on my nerves. Especially when I am trying to sleep.

      The photo of the squirrel was a lucky one, I have lots of blurry ones too, they are so quick!

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  6. Hi Helene,
    Here the suets are made with beef fat. And, the package says that they will go rancid within 1-2 months (couple of months). If that's the case, then I think they need to be put in the refrigerator. I have never experienced any rancid because whatever I put out in the garden gets eaten very fast by birds, squirrels and perhaps raccoon during night. However, I know that it takes a while for the birds to find the bird-feeders. Once they find, they make so much noises that other birds join.

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    1. I was a bit surprised that the fat balls didn't come with any instructions or use by date, I have no idea what kind of fat it is I just assume it is animal fat. Hopefully they will be eaten soon!

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  7. It does take birds quite a while to hone in on feeding areas - you are doing all the right things they will come eventually - patience is the key.

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    1. I can be patient, as long as I know I am doing the right things and that waiting will eventually lead to something :-)

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  8. There is a lovely book, published by the RSPB, called Gardening For WIldlife. In it, the author dispels some myths, one of which is "you can attract wildlife to your garden". Actually, it's not that simple, clearly scent can waft some distance and attract wildlife in, but the point the author makes is that we are reliant on what is actually there in the first place, or creatures accidentally landing in your garden. All we can do is make them feel so welcome that they decide to stick around, rather than move on. There are birds already there - you are offering them food, drink and a refreshing bath. Elaine's right - patience is the key!

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    1. I will be patient! I can hear lots of birds in the area, smaller songbirds, I just can't see them in my garden. Of course in the past the birds haven't really had much reason to congregate in my garden, except for eating berries and seeds, which I know they have, from the amount of bird droppings on my garden furniture!

      Hopefully I will get to see them too from now on, as soon as they discover that the bird restaurant is open for business :-)

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  9. P.S. that book also has some very good info on birds, including advice on being a good host to the various species which might visit your garden.

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    1. Thanks for the tip about the book, I looked it up on Amazon, looks great. I have also found lots of useful info on RSPBs own website about gardening for wildlife so I kind of know I am doing the right things. I just need the birds in the area to discover that I am doing the right things!

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  10. Hi Helene,

    I always enjoy viewing your pretty garden! As you may know this winter we added a bird feeder and it is the best thing. Your squirrel friend is adorable. Enjoy the new wildlife.

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    1. Thanks Donna, I enjoy watching the squirrel, not so keen on all the damage he does in my garden though! I think it might be the same one coming back every day, he is so used to me now he will come and eat seads from the ground even when I am sitting on my stool working in the garden just yards away.

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  11. Hello Hellen I have the 55-250 mm too and I am very pleased with it. I know there are much better lenses but that one's I can't afford. I am always photographing the birds from behind my windows inside to house. It's fantastic to see the birds in the garden specialy in wintertime when there is no colour of the flowers to look at. It makes the garden coming alive in winter.
    Overhere it's also terrible cold -1 during the day but the strong winds make it feels like it is -20C. Stay warm, one day the weather is getting better.

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    1. Good to hear you are happy with the Canon 55-250mm lens, I have read good review of it online, I will wait a while and see where this bird interest is taking me, maybe I will take the plunge!

      Yesterday we had the coldest March day in 27 years. Can't wait for warmer weather...

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  12. For some reason, I'm imagining goldfinches in your garden. I think they would enjoy it immensely! The smaller songbirds might be scared by the cat--even though he isn't interested in them? Just a thought. I have definite waxes and wanes in the birding population here. The busiest times are fall and late spring, although summer is busy, too. We have a few birds in the winter, but no one--not even the birds--seems to want to be here in late winter/early spring. ;-)

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    1. The funny thing is, I can hear a lot of different songbirds when I am out in the garden, almost every day, all year round, and they can't be very far away, maybe 4-5 gardens away. So I just need to make sure they realise they are welcome in my garden :-)
      Hopefully with a bit warmer weather...

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  13. A lovely post, Helene. I am at a similar point to you, weighing up the pros and cons of a new camera/zoom lense. I love the convenience of my little point and shoot, but it just doesn't do my local birds justice.

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    1. I have put the decision about the lens on hold for the moment, I will see how many birds I get in my garden and then I'll decide.

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  14. Hi Helene, I can see that once you put your heart to do something, you do it with gusto and passion. I have about ten types of birds visiting my garden everyday. I don't have to do anything to lure them. Perhaps the flowers, fruits and the berries are adequate enough for them. Happy shooting Helene!

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    1. Thanks, I know the birds are here, just not in my garden. I will keep on offering them what I am doing now, hopefully they will come :-)

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  15. There are far worse obsessions Helene :)
    The fat balls will only have a limited shelf life and will turn - you will know when they start to smell!
    Great shot of the squirrel! Your bird bath looks great. Water in the garden will also attract lots!

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    1. Thanks Angie, the squirrel is difficult to photograph, he is so quick! I will give the fat balls a sniff every now and then, to check, but it would have been even better if the birds had eaten them before they went off!

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  16. I had US's largest woodpecker in our yard today :-). I am so excited. I posted pictures in the blog. Might put up more later.

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    1. How interesting! I had a look at your blog but could not see the photos, maybe they are coming later?

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