The cost of feeding garden birds is enough to turn your feathers white
Mrs GG and I are both very keen on our garden birds but the cost of feeding them in spiralling. Just before Christmas, to ensure they had uninterrupted festive meals, I bought replacement sacks of peanuts, sunflower hearts and mixed corn.
The sunflower hearts won’t last a month but the other two will not be finished until spring. But the cost! It was more than £60. You really have to love your birds to fork that amount out.
On top of that we supplement the feeding with bread and meat fat plus the fat balls. But our birds are fussy eaters. They used to scoff down the peanuts and fat balls until I introduced a squirrel proof sunflower heart feeder. Well that was it. Our epicurean feathered friends largely ignore their former favourites but squabble like rats in a dustbin over the sunflower hearts.
On an average day we will have regular visits to our bird table and feeding stations from great tits, blue tits, long trailed tits, hedge and house sparrows, dunnocks, a pair of nuthatches, chaffinches, an occasional bullfinch and the beautiful goldfinches. Feeding off the floor we have robins, pigeons, pheasant, magpies, jackdaws and crows. We even have the spotted woodpecker who visits us most days. He too loves the sunflower hearts. So, on balance, it is worth the expense. But all of this is in addition to keeping two pheasant feeders full of egg layer pellets. They do attract all sorts of different birds and badgers.
It is interesting to note that the charming greenfinches, who used to be very regular feeders, have disappeared and we have not seen hide nor hair of them for almost a year. Our other real sadness is that our wonderful barn owls, who had been with us for more than 30 years, have been driven away since the Lioncourt housing development in adjacent fields. Our lovely buzzard ignores the 140 houses and is still a regular visitor, surveying the scene majestically from his perch high up on a larch tree.
A mystery visitor
But just before Christmas I spotted something that made me fetch my binoculars. It was a jet black bird with a yellow bill and feet and a startlingly snow white head and beak. We looked through our bird books but found nothing. So, in the end, I emailed my friend Paul Stancliffe at the British Trust for Ornithology down in Thetford.
Paul immediately identified our mystery avian visitor. It is almost certainly a leucistic Blackbird. That’s a blackbird with a feather pigmentation problem. They can be completely white but not albino as they will have the normal coloured eyes rather than pink. It is believed to be a genetic condition so lets hope our bird finds a mate.
I was in my greenhouse at the weekend creating a bubble-wrap shelter around a banana tree given to us my our daughter, Emma. As I was putting the finishing touches to Staffordshire’s very own Crystal Palace, I was aware of movement under one of the benches.
I slowly turned round and sitting on an upturned flower pot, with its twinkly little eyes focussed on my shelter, was the most enchanting wren. I’ve seen them before in the greenhouse in winter and believe they get in through a disused air vent. I bet this little bird was working out precisely how he or she could get inside my mini hot-house to stave off the winter chills – and that must be an excellent idea. They are lovely little birds and very clever.
Happy gardening, The Grumpy Gardener