No birds on the feeders

BirdFeeder-Feb

Well, OK. I exaggerate a tad It’s not ‘no birds ever’, it’s ‘very few birds’.

It’s winter here in jolly old England, and my least favourite month of the season: February. January can be vicious, it’s true1, but February seems to hang onto the worst of winter with bitter obstinacy, and March with it’s blue skies2 seems months away. Usually.

This year, it’s been quite mild. There have been some days when it’s been warm enough to go out without a jacket, and I’ve been too hot in my walking boots.

We live on the edge of the village, so on one side of us there are open fields, and on the other the houses continue, and grow denser. Usually we get a fair variety of bird visitors in winter, including magpies, jackdaws, fieldfares, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, starlings, dunnocks and the occasional green woodpecker. Not forgetting the robin (singular) and last year we had Bob the blackbird, who would hop into the conservatory to clean up any dropped bits of kibble from Jeffie’s dish. He got quite impatient if breakfast was late, or if Jeffie didn’t drop any, but Jeffie usually did drop quite a lot so that was alright. OH got quite used to going into the conservatory with his cup of tea only to see Bob’s truculent little face pressed against the glass door. If he’d had fingers, we’re convinced he’d have been tapping them, while muttering things like ‘Bloody lazy humans .. Come on, come on! Do you think I’ve got all day?’

MorguefileBlackbird

This year, the birds have been conspicuous by their absence. We have two bird feeding poles, each with a hanging seed feeder and a mesh tray. I put ‘no mess’ bird food into one feeder and a ‘winter warmer’ mix into the other, and mealworms and a corn mix into the trays for the starlings, jackdaws and the aggressive little bastard robin3. I sprinkle mealworms occasionally into the dormant vegetable trugs for Bob, because blackbirds are ground feeders by choice. I also sprinkle a small amount of seed mix on the ground for the dunnocks, but I don’t know why I bother because the starlings tip enough onto the ground anyway once they get here.

But that’s the problem. This year, the bird numbers are way, way down. I have had, at the most, five starlings on a feeding station at one time, whereas usually, there are somewhere around fifteen or twenty.

starlingsgrp4-900

The dunnocks are still hopping around in ones and twos, but the collared doves, wood pigeons, tits and so on are, quite simply, infrequent visitors. I’ve seen a jackdaw once, and I haven’t seen a goldfinch or a woodpecker4 this winter at all. Even Bob is conspicuous by his absence. Good heavens, I’ve only had to buy one pack of each type of food for them! I’m filling the seed feeders once a week, instead of every couple of days.

jckdw3a-crp1000cjs

I don’t think it’s a lack of bird numbers. I think it’s the unseasonal weather. I think that the birds are finding plenty to eat in the fields and hedgerows without having to venture into gardens – which is why the mealworms are going, I suppose, mealworms being to the winter bird diet as a restaurant meal is to us; something rich and special, to be grabbed if you can.

There’s a ‘Winter Invertebrates’ thread on a wildlife forum I belong to, and it’s really quite busy with sightings of flies, slugs, beetles etc all awake and doing when they should be asleep, and there are flowers blooming which shouldn’t be5. No wonder the birds aren’t at the all-you-can-eat buffet we call the feeders! What with all this untoward activity, plus the habit farmers have of planting crops earlier and earlier, they have the equivalent of a roast dinner out there for the taking!

Ah well. I bet come nesting season they’ll be back. For a brief month or so the feeders will be emptying as if they had holes in the bottom.

Oh .. wait … they do!

1 … and so can March, April, May, September, October, November and December. In fact, you can throw in June, July and August as well, because I can remember some vicious days during those months too, like the day we battled to the get to the school’s summer fete in driving snow one July dressed in our winter’s finest and with our umbrellas turning inside out, and the August day I tried to cycle into Brighton from the north against a full-on, bitterly cold gale. In fact, just go and listen to Flanders & Swann’s ‘A Song of the Weather‘, and you’ll get the idea.

2 See footnote one.

3 People seem to have such an affection for the robin that they tend to overlook the hugely aggressive nature of this little bird. They berate starlings for being dirty, noisy, antisocial and aggressive, but in fact starlings are a) no dirtier than robins, although considerably less dainty, b) extremely social with a very organised ‘family’ structure, and c) only aggressive with each other. I have never seen one chase a bird of another species away or attack them in any way, but OK, you’ve got me on the ‘noisy’. Robins, on the other hand, will kill their own mate if she doesn’t bugger off the minute raising the family is done with, and likewise the nestlings if they hang around once their red breast feathers develop. They will attack small birds of other species without provocation, and will even attempt to kill a stuffed model robin, or their own reflection in a window.

4 Though I know the woodpeckers are around because I hear them.

5 Like the white rambling rose at the bottom of the garden, and the periwinkles, for goodness’ sake!

8 thoughts on “No birds on the feeders

  1. Carol 20th February 2015 / 11:28 pm

    I don’t get many starlings – thankfully because the ones I have had have been quite piggish and raucous. I’ve not noticed the robins being brutish, but perhaps they wait till I’m not looking. The jays are the most grumpy birds in my yard and I’ve noticed some of the pine Siskin being quite selfish at the feeders. Just like people, all these different personalities.

    • Jay 21st February 2015 / 9:27 am

      Perhaps the American Robin behaves differently to the European one, Carol? They look different, don’t they?

      Yes, you’re right about starlings being raucous, and yes, their table manners leave something to be desired. They remind me of a bunch of teenagers, arguing among themselves, descending on the food like vultures, and then departing in a rush to be somewhere else. I really rather like them!

  2. Valerie Daggatt 21st February 2015 / 11:36 am

    I’m sorry you haven’t had many birds in your garden this winter…. dare I say, I think they all came to mine. All except starlings, that is. Do you think they came to the Midlands for the reason (weather) or just because they love our new feeder. Honestly, we’ve had birds we hardly ever saw and they appear to be sticking around. To my delight, that is? I know the robins can be aggressive but I do have a couple of ‘friends’ who talk to me as soon as I appear in the garden. Actually, I think he’s relating the news that the bird lady has arrived. I befriended two baby robins last spring and I like to think they’re still around now they’re adults.

    • Jay 21st February 2015 / 9:35 pm

      Well, we are in the Midlands, or at least on the edge of it! And I have a new feeder too – why don’t they like mine? I feel quite hurt!

      Seriously, I know it’s nothing personal, and they’re probably just finding enough food for the moment. Come nesting time it’ll be a different story, I know.

      Yes, robins are great with people, aren’t they? This one is always there if I dig anywhere or do weeding, or just move pots. I don’t dislike them at all, I just prefer starlings. I know, I’m odd!

  3. genjiscorner 21st February 2015 / 1:32 pm

    It is unseasonably cold here with the Siberian Express rolling through, and I am having to fill my two feeders twice a day sometimes. I wonder if they are just playing me for a sucker?

    • Jay 21st February 2015 / 9:36 pm

      I’ve heard about the weather some parts of the US have been getting and I don’t envy you at all. It sounds bitterly cold. Good for you for filling the feeders twice a day – you’re almost certainly keeping some of them from a cold and hungry death.

  4. Katherine 23rd February 2015 / 2:45 am

    “Villiage…” “Bloody….” I JUST LOVE ALL THAT!!!!!! I would love to hear you just TALK. English in the US and the phrases people use are somewhat ugly – no beauty to them. The way you write has beauty!

    And speaking of… the pictures are fantastic. Today the weather finally warmed and the birds were everywhere. Today was a cormorant, blue heron, black capped chickadee, cardinal and a pair of birds I didn’t recognize.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Rob Lenihan 23rd February 2015 / 2:27 pm

    Where’s Bob?!? I have to know!

    I share your loathing of February, Jay. It’s been bitterly cold in the Northeast US lately and I’m getting so fed up I’m ready to sprout wings and fly south for the duration.

    Let’s hope the weather turns warm soon and the birdies all come back to the feeders!

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