SparrowSo, the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up (the 30th and 31st of January), and mother thought, what better time for me to write a blog on the (garden-related) subject closest to my heart: Birds.

Its midwinter and the birds are… pretty much doing what they always do, which is eat, fly, and sing. They seem to be doing it more often, though. I saw about eight Blackbirds today, in one trip to the supermarket. That’s a lot.

We don’t really get snow at Christmas anymore. Instead, we get a very cold and frosty January and February (with this year admittedly being far milder than normal). The fact is; it’s midwinter, and a very good time to be concerned for our wildlife. Birds can’t put on much weight for the winter, since they need to keep light for flying. In other words; they need a constant source of high-energy food through the colder times, and that source may as well be you. It’s easy to get hold of fat cakes that are perfect for winter bird feeding, due to their high energy content (try the RSPB website). Actually, any good source of bird food will be welcome to your garden’s avian inhabitants, do make sure to clean out your feeders regularly though, otherwise they might end up eating mould or rot, and that isn’t pleasant for anyone.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s always better to put out a seed mix over just one kind of seed, so that each bird can chose their favourite. I also find that a number of companies will produce a special ‘winter seed mix’ containing small chips of fat cake, thereby covering all your bases.

Despite the obvious physical differences (one being approximately four times the size of the other) there are many parallels between the behaviour of Blackbirds and Robins. Both species share a taste for mealworms, and are some of the bravest garden birds, with regards to humans (unless you get city Pigeons in your garden, which we don’t), they are also very talented singers, possessing highly varied songs, with no constant tune, although each species does possess a recognisable voice.

The main difference in their behaviour is to do with territory; Blackbirds occupy a strange middle ground between social and antisocial, not really flocking, but not driving others away either, whereas Robins are somewhat infamous for their aggressive and territorial behaviour.

By the way, Blackbirds don’t tend to sing in the dead of night, no matter what Paul McCartney says.

It’s also reaching the end of the time when you should clean out any birdboxes on your house. It’s important to clean them every year, to stop the build-up of parasites that might kill your baby birds! You should use boiling water only, since that will kill the parasites, but won’t leave any residue that might harm the birds. Bat boxes on the other hand, should not be touched by anyone other than a trained professional. Soon you should expect to see birds sticking their heads out of your boxes, and chattering away. Makes it all worthwhile, really.

by Thomas Rider (Junior Partner in Jane Hamel Garden Design)

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