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November: time to start feeding the birds

  • November: time to start feeding the birds
  • November: time to start feeding the birds
  • November: time to start feeding the birds

“No moon... no morn... no noon...” That poem by whoever it was (errr, Thomas Hood: thank heavens for the internet!) doesn't have a line about “no worms, no seeds... no bugs on which to feed...” but that's probably what the birds are thinking.

As the days (and nights!) get colder, life gets harder for our feathered friends, and you might well be thinking that it's time to start feeding them.

If you haven't put out bird-food in the past, maybe this year is the time to start, and there are a couple of things about bird psychology which are helpful to know, before you start.

First and foremost, they want to feel safe. This means scouting out the area before landing - and that means having high perches, which are a safe distance away from the feeder. Trees are perfect, either in your garden or in that of your neighbour.

Secondly, once one comes, they all come. No-one likes to be first... so if you can lure just one bird into your garden, he will soon be followed by others.

Thirdly, birds are not very bright. It often takes them a long time to realise that you are putting food out for them.

Fourthly, different birds eat different food, and in different ways.

Fifthly (if there is such a word) birds are creatures of habit. They have “rounds”, and will circulate from one favoured feeding area to another. You'd think that, having found a bird feeder, they would stuff themselves until they could barely fly, but it doesn't work that way: they like to have a variety of places to feed.

How does this relate to the real world?

Firstly, look at your garden and check for high level scouting posts - trees are best, posts will do. Birds love fences with trellis on top of them, which is also quite good for discouraging cats from jumping into your garden.

Secondly, consider putting out a little bread for a few days - it's the worst thing to feed birds (where would they find processed food in nature?) but it certainly attracts the “wrong” ones such as pigeons, and they, in turn, will signal to other birds that this is a feeding area. At first you might only get a few odd birds coming to your feeders, but in a while, the numbers will increase, so be patient.

Thirdly, when you proudly hang out your first bird feeders, don't fill them. Leave them out there, empty for a couple of days. Then put a small amount of food in them, and be prepared to replace it if it's not eaten in a week. There's nothing more depressing than buying six different types of seed, nut, suet and fat ball feeders, then finding them untouched and mouldy after a month. Also, I personally think that birds are repelled by the chemical smells of a new feeder, so letting them “air” for a couple of weeks gives them time to lose that factory smell.

Fourthly, decide which type of bird you want to attract: if you want finches, you will need a narrow seed-feeder, for example, and they like it hung high up. Dunnocks won't fly up to a bird feeder, and only eat from ground level. Tits are agile and enjoy hanging off a fat ball or a half-coconut, but robins prefer something they can grip with their feet, such as a wire cage with loose fat balls inside it.

And fifthly (still not sure if that's a real word), once you start - keep on going. Regularity is what the birds want more than anything else, and once you have trained them to come to your feeders, you will need to keep up the good work.

Finally, a quick word about hygiene - yes, I know every article on this subject says it, but it really is best to keep feeders clean, with fresh food in them. I keep two sets of hanging feeders so that every other week or so, I can bring in the empty one for a scrub, putting out the other one instead. This gives the feeders time to be properly cleaned and dried, while maintaining the “service” in my garden.

And yes, I have the joy of a constant stream of feathered visitors!

Comments (5)

  1. Grower

    Mike Hill

    I'm in the middle of the city but have had a reasonable number of birds in the garden in the past, but I've hardly seen a bird in the garden so far this autumn, bar the resident robin. I'm hoping they will turn up when it gets a bit colder?

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi MIke, yes, usually a cold snap brings them out into our gardens, presumably a combination of the cold killing off some of their usual diet, and the earth being suddenly too hard to easily dig into.

    Also, I think there is a difference between our resident little birds - such as your robin - and those who move through the country as the weather changes. I used to have a flock of Long-Tailed Tits (possibly my favourite small bird) who appeared every February, regular as clockwork, for years: then four years ago they appeared in December, then in Jan, then in December again, and last year there were a few appearing in November! I guess they change their travel plans depending on the weather.

    As for your birds, give them time, I'm sure they'll be back!

  3. Grower

    Mike Hill

    I love long-tailed tits too - they are so cute! The year before last a pair nested in a tall italian cypress tree in the garden, it was great to see them going to and fro but I went away on holiday to find them gone when I got back, so I'll never know if the young fledged and left the nest or if one of the neighbourhood predators got them (we have lots - crows, magpies, sparrowhawk). But if I see them in winter they usually move through pretty rapidly.

  4. Grower

    Mike Hill

    Doesn't help that several of my neighbours have concreted over their gardens removing all trace of greenery

  5. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    On the other hand, MIke, if your neighbours have concreted over, your garden will became a haven for passing birds, so they'll all be concentrated in your area!

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