Bird Feeder

I am a self-employed gardener and that suits me just fine.  But it does mean that I don’t get certain benefits.  No work pension.  No sick pay.  No holiday pay.  No pay if I just feel like lying in bed, eating bon-bons.  And no work-chums.  But hey, you weigh things up and you make your choice, don’t you?  And on the plus side I get to work in a garden that is beautiful and peaceful and ever-changing; and always interesting.  And one benefit which didn’t occur to me when I took the job, was the amount of wildlife I would get to see.  Some of them like moles and deer …

… and rabbits …

… and grey squirrels, I could frankly do without.  But birds I generally encourage with open arms.  Some are transient visitors like these …

… Canada Geese.  As soon as they catch a glimpse of my mug they’re off; shame, they look rather nice on the east pond – though I guess it’s better not to have them in residence, traipsing into the borders.

I have problems with photographing some of the birds.  “We’re gonna need a bigger lens” for a start.  But I haven’t even seen the tawny owl (let alone photograph it) and while I do occasionally see kingfishers, I can’t offer you photographic evidence.  I love the green sandpiper; a regular visitor but who flies off at the first whiff of the gardener.  I’ve been close enough to virtually jump on a buzzard (and a sparrowhawk) – just never when I’ve had my camera.

Green woodpeckers avoid me (which hurts) but, thankfully, there are plenty of garden birds that will let me get pretty up close and personal.

Pied wagtails, for example, always appear as soon as I start mowing.  I guess the shorter grass disturbs and reveals their insect prey.  And a pair of …

… collared doves, seem so into one another that they barely notice me.  Did you know that collared doves only arrived in the UK during the 50’s?  For me, they seem so quintessentially a part of an English summer, that I find that fact hard to accept.

Here two male blackbirds are fighting.  It was over pretty quickly with no apparent physical damage – just a few ruffled feathers and tarnished pride.

But obviously the best way to encourage birds to your garden is to feed them.  We have four feeders at the Priory and the range of species we attract is wide.  I had never seen a …

… Great spotted woodpecker before they started visiting one of the peanut feeders.

And though they don’t hang around, long-tailed tits are regular visitors.  Awwww.

Recently those rather nice people at Nature’s Feast very kindly sent me a bird-feeding kit.

It consists of a ‘Tornado Twist Feeder’ that holds three different types of food and so, in theory, should attract a wider range of species than a conventional feeder.  Did it work?  (Obviously there are other bird feeders out there – you may wish to visit Hayes Garden World)**

In no time at all, a young great tit was checking it out and …

… soon there were a pair of greenfinches as well…

… and goldfinches too.

My neighbourhood woodpecker took a break from peanuts to try black sunflower seeds …

… though he seemed a little put out at having to share the feeder.

An impressive feeder then.  My only criticism of it, is that its internal, non-removable plastic spiral makes it difficult to clean.  To be fair though, I’ve never had a feeder that was easy to dismantle and wash – but they should be.  (Manufacturers please note).  I wrote a post a few months ago about some deformed birds that I’d seen in the Priory gardens (see ‘Beaky and the Nest Boxes’).  One of the resultant comments had me writing to the RSPB to seek more information about beak malformations and avian pox.  The full text of their reply is below but basically – make sure that you regularly clean your bird feeders.  It is very important.

As I’ve said, the design of feeders doesn’t make this particularly easy; I find the easiest way is to dunk the feeder into a bucket of bleach solution, thoroughly rinse off (removing any food), air dry and re-use.  I do this every time I re-fill them – which is usually daily.  Time-consuming but necessary.  If you don’t, I’m afraid that you risk spreading avian pox, and other diseases, amongst the birds using your feeders.  Something none of us want.

Not necessarily avian pox but a badly diseased great tit nonetheless

If you find diseased birds in your garden, the RSPB have asked that you do contact them (UK readers only).  They give the address below.

But I think I ought to finish this post on a lighter note than pox and pestilence.

So here’s a juvenile blackbird that I almost trod under boot.   By sheer luck (and my jungle-cat, lightening reflexes), I didn’t.  So there you go – a happy ending.  (But remember to clean your bird feeders)!

Here is the full text of the RSPB’s email:

Blue tits are known to be affected by avian pox, and it is possible that the birds referred to by your correspondent did have the pox virus. Having said that, without a more detailed description on the colour, size and texture of the lumps I would not want to be too definite about it. A smooth grey or brown lump up to a certain size tend to turn out to be ticks, but if the lump is pink or red, especially if it is more irregular in shape, it is most likely to be a pox lesion. Avian pox is transmitted first and foremost by biting insects, with secondary transmission by direct and indirect contact from an affected bird. The only thing people can do if poxy birds turn up in the garden is to step up the hygiene regime, especially by daily wipe of the feeder perches and seed ports with a disinfectant. There is no necessity to stop feeding. As you know, the RSPB is involved with monitoring incidents of disease in garden birds, currently with particular emphasis on trichomonosis and avian pox. It would be great if you could direct people who say that they have sick birds in the garden to our website http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/health/sickbirds/index.aspx  They can report the birds by filling in and emailing or posting to us the disease reporting form downloadable from the pages on tricho and pox.

 

The beaky blue tit in your pictures seems to have a normal lower mandible and a long upper mandible. Abnormal beak growth does happen from time to time, and can result in a whole range of beak shapes. In most cases, this is caused by damage to the beak or its growth point; often mechanical damage through injury, but sometimes also through actions of feather mites that burrow into the growth point of the beak. Normally, if the mandibles end up different lengths, the fact that the beak tips don’t meet, will result in uneven growth of the mandibles resulting in a beak bent in one direction or another. I find your blue tit quite unusual in that the elongated top mandible has grown with only minor curvature without the lower mandible balancing it out. The bird appears in good conditions, so it has clearly adapted to its disfigurement well, although I would have thought that it must have some difficulty picking up and handling food because of the scale of discrepancy in the mandible lengths. The BTO have been running a survey of beak abnormalities. Perhaps you would be interested to check out their website and report your bird to the survey.

** Sponsored link – added 29 June 2013

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52 thoughts on “Bird Feeder

  1. Excellent post and pics…I particularly like the one of the figting Blackbirds. Never heard of avian pox so I shall be cleaning out my bird feeders in future. We too feed the birds year round. It does’nt cost much and is more than repaid in entertainment value.

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    • Absolutely Bridget, though it doesn’t actually cost ME anything to feed the birds at the Priory. Hehe. I had a better framed shot of the blackbirds showing their beaks as well but sadly slightly out of focus. Drat! D

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  2. Dear, um, Jungle Cat? (Dave where are you using ‘Jungle Cat’ anyway?) I am sorry to have to agree with Kininvie here about feeders. It’s all I can do to keep the sharks out of the bird baths in summer– birds just have to find their own food. They seem to love all the native plants I cultivate so really I think I’m doing well by them. Oh if it snows and ices over in winter I put out food, but that’s different and I just use a pan… No collared doves here –we have mourning doves, with lovely sad calls, heard often and seen rarely. I wonder if you have quail, so cute running in crowds like shoppers on their way to a sale. Nice bird portraits!

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    • Hi Linniew, please don’t apologise. I didn’t mean to convince people to feed birds – unless they want to. Just that if they do, it is necessary to be pretty hygienic about it. Once you start year round feeding you do have to stick at it er, year round – quite a big responsibility, and something I have to get cover for if I go away. No quail at the Priory, but I see them on the South Downs and when I go walking in the north of England, up on the fells and moors – and yes, always in a hurry to be somewhere. Hadn’t realised it was a sale. Dave

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      • Oh, and I don’t call myself Jungle-cat – that’d just be a little weird, don’t you think? Jungle-cat Marsden? Faisal picked up on it after I mentioned my amazing cattish attributes. D

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  3. A lovely post, David. You may not have any work chums but the wildlife seems to make up for that. I particularly love your action shots. I can never get close enough to get decent bird shots. I need a bigger lens so I don’t scare them off. I got a feeder from Wiggly Wigglers a couple of years ago which is fairly easy to clean. I think the brand was ‘yankee droll’. I remember it being quite pricey but I wanted something that would last rather than one of the cheap plastic ones that break fairly easily. I was reading a fascinating article in the Telegraph at the weekend by a man who was writing about the decline in songbirds due to predation. I love listening to birdsong but it’s sad to think that it used to be so much better and that so many of our birds are in decline.

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    • Thanks for the tip, WW. Yankee Droll seem to be the way forward – just need to find one within a squirrel proof cage. Shall investigate. I’ve recently moved up to a 300mm lens and still struggle sometimes to get close enough. Some of the birds are used to me now, so that I can pretty much stand by the feeders and snap away. Others, like the goldfinches, won’t appear unless I’m hidden in the house. I seem to be on the road to ever more expensive camera equipment. And boy, is it expensive. D

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  4. Since I don’t have feeders, I don’t need to clean them. Interesting you feed your birds in summer – I was always taught that you don’t want to accustom birds to artifical food, since they lose the ability to find their own. Winter feeding only for me. And, where are the swallows and house martins? Surely you have them?

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    • Hi Mr K, there are swallows and swifts at the Priory (and much else besides) but I couldn’t feature every visitor in this post. And, also, capturing them on the wing, close-up is fiendishly difficult and we have no telegraph wires at the Priory – always handy for a resting swallow shot. I did try and photo some at the Old Forge but so far without success. Here’s a link from the RSPB that explains seasonal feeding for birds – summer included.

      http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/whentofeed.aspx

      Dave

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      • Well of course there was a hidden challenge in the comment about the swallows….
        Thanks for the link: I would be happier with the advice if it weren’t for the final section encouraging me to buy their bird food!

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          • Well I’m probably prejudiced – I regard the RSPB with a slightly jaundiced eye anyway, as they keep so very, very silent about the songbird predation by Britain’s six million plus domestic cats. I understand they need the donations – but still!

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            • Don’t even begin to draw me onto the subject of cats, Mr K. New neighbours arrived at our old house with two cats in tow. Within days they were killing birds in OUR garden. And I once suggested to a work-colleague that she put a bell on her cat’s collar after she mentioned how it was killing birds (like it was ever so slightly naughty). She looked at me as if I’d suggested beating the cat with a big stick – “But Dave, I couldn’t possibly put a bell on Arthur. He’d absolutely hate it!” Well … I tried. Thank God – there are no cats at the Priory – too far from any other houses, thankfully. Wasn’t aware of the RSPB’s quiet stance on cat predation. Though I’d suggest cat-owners are very, very silent on it too? Dave

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  5. I guess the manufacturers don’t actually use their own products! Else they would know how frustrating some of the feeders are to clean. The only birds I feed are the hummingbirds, and their feeders are the dickens to clean! I’ve even tried using a toothbrush, but it seems most have too many tiny places for dirt to hide. I finally, though, found a feeder I think I’m going to like. It’s simple, and it all comes apart. So far, it’s been easy to keep clean. Would love to feed the other birds, but our cats aren’t bird friendly. :O Loved seeing all the different varieties of birds that come to see you!

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    • Hi Holley, well an easy to take apart feeder is the answer – and you’ve found it. One of mine, a squirrel proof one, is er, no longer squirrel proof. Going to do some research so as to replace it with something I can disassemble. Why does everything in life just need to be so time-consuming though? Dave

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  6. I’ll join the ranks of the guilty bird-feeder non-cleaners. It’s too easy to think that it doesn’t matter somehow, but you’re absolutely right about how important it is. I shall stop being neglectful. I’m impressed by all the detail in the RSPB’s reply — clearly people who are passionate about what they do! Collared doves are becoming invasive here, as people release them at weddings and such. That’s the kind of thing that gets me pretty steamed up, actually. Either the birds (raised in captivity) will die, because they don’t have the skills to survive in the wild, or they’ll live and displace something else, like our (admittedly ubiquitous and mildly irritating but really quite lovely) mourning doves. Either outright cruelty, or an ecological upset, all for a romantic gesture that lasts a few seconds. I don’t know why people can’t just tie tin cans to their cars like they used to. I shall look at your cheeky little wagtail and cheer up.

    Nice bird feeder!

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    • Really? ‘They’ release non-indigenous birds as a love-stunt? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to do that in the UK; legally I mean. I can understand why it would steam you up. As far as I know, tin cans and old boots tied onto newly-weds’ cars is still going on here.
      Hobbes used to bridle with almost uncontrollable anger whenever she saw a pied wagtail. She’d go stock still, stare intently and tremble; I suppose she found all that wagginess too outrageously provoking. For that reason they are still known in our household as Pesky Wagtails – but they are undeniably cheeky as well. Dave

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  7. You’re lucky to have so much wildlife and birds to look at (and get the chance to take care of), it’s like being surrounded by pets without the need for pens or extra interventions as long as they’re in balance (okay, maybe not the grey squirrels, we could do with not having them either).

    Bird feeders are such a pain to disassemble most of the time. I find the easiest way to clean them is just by soaking it in a solution of animal friendly disinfectant which gets rid of all of the bugs harmful to the birds (I use Virkon S or Virasure tablets dissolved as a solution, which I also use for disinfecting fish keeping equipment).

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    • I found a grey squirrel right inside a supposedly squirrel-proof feeder yesterday. He’d prised the top off and was squeezed half way down the internal tube. Little blighter (that’s me being particularly polite). D

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  8. I didn’t know about the health issues with feeders; I don’t have feeders here, not a concept really known in Italy, but I’ll let my mother in law know, she wouldn’t want to be causing problems to the birds she gets so much pleasure from. Christina

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    • We started feeding garden birds after staying in a rented cottage in Cornwall. A few feet from the kitchen windows were several feeders and the number of visitors was just astonishing. D

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  9. Super photos, but you’re making us all feel guilty not cleaning our feeders enough! Bees, birds and butterflies bring a garden to life and show us, as gardeners, that we are doing something right.

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    • Hi Pauline, it was only seeing a few instances of diseased birds myself, that made me start cleaning my bird feeders – I hadn’t realised that it was necessary before. Sorry – didn’t mean to lay a guilt trip on you. D

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  10. What better company than beautiful birds while you work……………………love the 3 way bird feeder and of course your great photos…………………..

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  11. You really have some exotic looking birds in UK, no wonder people is so interested on them! Though I’d love to have some squirrels in my garden too! We have some woodpecker here anyway, not the green ones, the red and black with white spots, and a few jay. I’d like to know more about collared doves, since I almost hate them, where do they come from? Who was the fool that imported them to the UK in the 50s? You couldn’t imagine a summer without doves, I dream it! 🙂

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    • Weird, huh? I’d gladly swap you all my grey squirrels (and good bleeding riddance) for your collared doves, Alberto. The doves originally come from the Middle East and I don’t think they were introduced to the UK but rather have just spread across Europe and finally reached these shores. Indeed, when they first arrived people travelled from all over to see them as they were so rare here. I don’t think they do any damage at the Priory though. Why do you (almost) hate them so? Dave

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      • Because they’re not so different from pigeons, they station around my pool so there are no other birds coming and then I hate their sound. I’d rather listen to seagulls!

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        • Alberto, I agree with you about the collared doves. There’s something really creepy about them. It’s partly the way they fly when they land – they look like angels of doom.

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          • Oh, well. Who knew that something I found totally innocuous were so disliked?! I live on the coast Alberto and you’d be surprised at how many people complain about gulls. You want to point out that, “Hello, if you hate them so much why did you move to the ….” Sheesh. D

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            • Cà Rossa is 20km from the sea and there is a river just here, so I have loads of seagulls, I kind of like their sound, sometimes it’s like somebody drove over a cat but most of times they are cheerful.
              Mr. K: Now I am officially scared of them.

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  12. Eeeek! I only use bird feeders in the winter and certainly didn’t wash them out everytime I filled them I feel really bad now. I have noticed those that there is an accumulation of wheat and corn grass below the tree, clearly where the seed has fallen to the ground. Thanks for your post and great photos

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    • Hi Ronnie, entirely up to you of course but no reason to just feed them in the winter (well, apart from expense that is!). The ground scraps at the Priory get eaten by chaffinches and robins and pheasants and coots and crows (you get the picture). Put the grass does get rather scuffed in the process. Dave

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  13. I loved your bird pictures. Birds are an integral part of a garden and my birds give me so much pleasure but I am taking the hygiene warning seriously as I must confess I have been lax in this area.

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  14. A lovely birdy post – love that feeder – will have to look out for one. Must just tell you whilst we are on wild life – I have just seen a Hummingbird Hawk Moth feeding on my Sweet Williams – never seen one before – and guess what – I didn’t have my camera with me. Poo!

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  15. aargh, now I feel seriously guilty. I don’t wash my feeders more than half a dozen times a year. Mind you I have never seen a diseased bird up here either but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t clean up my act.

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    • Hi Elizabeth, actually it was only by photographing birds on the feeders and then looking at the photos later on my laptop that I noticed any diseased birds. I think you’d be hard pressed to see anything from a distance – certainly with my eye-sight. Dave

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