Behold the Fowls of the Air

For they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.

And in the Scottish winter, you can supplement whatever meagre rations the Heavenly Father sees fit to provide them with by putting out tasty seeds, fats and grains in your garden. And lo, you will be rewarded by an influx of pretty, chirping feathered friends.

We always fed the birds when I was a child. It didn’t cost anything. Our bird table was an old white melamine cupboard door flat laid flat on a large flower tub, and the food was the crumbs from the bread board, old coconut shells filled with  dripping, snipped up bacon rind, anything that seemed suitable.

We loved watching the birds from the kitchen window. Blue tits, starlings, sparrows (spadgers, my father calls them), great tits, robins, and rarely something more exotic-looking, a small yellow or green bird that we would have to look up in the bird book. They all came and fed happily from the scraps that we put out for them.

Now it’s February, and I have a garden of my own for the very first time, and I think I would like to feed the birds.

But bird feeding has developed in to something more complicated during the past two decades. A quick look at the internet shows that modern and superior knowledge now prevails where such matters are concerned. Such-and-such birds eat only this type of seed, hanging. Such-and-such other birds prefer fat balls. Others feed from the ground, and eat only steam-rolled oats harvested under a full moon. Feed them anything else, and you’ll be held personally liable for decimating the local avian population.

I have also have another important concern: not attracting rodents. We already have mice; I don’t want to encourage them by leaving food lying around outside. I haven’t seen a rat, yet, but I detest the thought of  inviting one along.

So, I set about educating myself from the internet, and learn several things.

Firstly, bird feeding is no longer just for winter, as it was when I was a child. You can, and should, feed birds all year round, say both the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology. Food shortages can occur at any time of year, and current thinking is that it is not harmful to continue feeding birds in spring and summer. It is advisable to provide different types of food at different times of year. Some foods, such as certain fats, can be harmful to nesting chicks.

Standard acceptable year-round offerings include sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, mild grated cheese, and seed mixes. Mealworms look nasty but are exceptionally tasty to birds. You can even grow your own, an idea I am tempted to try in the interests of disgusted fascination, but one I may have trouble selling to The Brazilian.

As for rodents, the obvious precautions apply. Place the food up and out of reach, and offer only limited quantities to prevent excess food lying about for a long time. This latter is also important to prevent development bacteria and toxins on the food that will cause disease in the birds. I suppose it’s the old Hippocratic principle, first do no harm. Better that the birds go hungry for a day than your eager, well-meaning intervention spreads some kind of avian gastroenteritis.

I take a look at some online bird feed suppliers, and am dismayed by the prices. Why should bringing birds in to our garden cost upwards of £20 for a bird feeder, £15 for a bag of seed, £25 for a bird bath? It shouldn’t have to, that’s what.

I decide to make my own bird feeding equipment. Several gardening blogs have bright ideas about recycling household waste, plastic bottles and the like. I am generally keen on reusing waste, and an investigation of our recycling bin reveals the following items of potential interest:

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Am I enchanted to think of this plastic litter hanging in my garden? Decidedly not, no matter how honorable its function. Anyway, I am not broke, I am merely resistant to wasting money on unnecessary and cynically expensive commodities. I put the plastic back in to the recycling, and think a bit more.

I want my bird feeding equipment to fulfill my ideals of aesthetics, suitability, durability, putting to good use, value for money. On a Saturday of grey and spluttering sky, I go to two nearby charity shops and buy these things:

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And now look. This is my bird bath: it cost £3.80. (I hope the birds don’t find the orange too startling.)

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This is my bird table: it cost £2. I filled it with cold leftover rice and an apple, past its best, chopped in to small pieces.

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This is my bird seed feeder: it cost £2.60 and contains wild bird seed mix.

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The perch is a wooden hair pin that I never use. Everything is tied together strongly with green garden wire.

I know that the birds won’t come immediately. They will take some time to notice the food, and then even longer to trust that it is not a trap. Let’s face it, my constant, interested presence at the kitchen window is probably as off-putting as anything, but I can’t stop myself. The next morning, a breezy, mild Sunday, a single brave robin takes rice from the bird table, thereby validating the arrangements, and it’s going to be all right, the single robin is the beginning; other birds will come soon, in time. Our garden has become a better garden.

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