Once you’ve filled your feeders, it’s time to sit back, and see who stops by for a bite to eat. As well as their colours and shape, where and the way birds feed can help you work out who your dinner guests are. But don’t worry if you can’t tell your sparrow from your starling – it’s easier than you think to identify garden birds and our top tips will make you a whizz in no time! Let’s introduce you...
Some birds just want to grab a quick bite to eat. These birds can usually be found on your feeders and some of them even prefer a takeaway!
Some of your garden favourites prefer to dine at a table as opposed to grabbing a bite on the go. Keep your eyes peeled for chaffinches, robins and collared doves. You might notice that the first two will hover at feeders and try to peck at the food amid a flurry of wing beats, but they seem to prefer having their feet on more solid ground when it comes to filling their bellies.
Lazy lunchers Although many birds have adapted to using feeders, there are some that haven’t quite got the hang of it. That doesn’t make them any less smart though… As you watch the birds frantically pecking away at the food in hanging feeders, keep an eye on the ground below as your lazy lunchers arrive for their meal too. All the food, with none of the effort – that sounds pretty smart to me!
Woodpigeons aren’t the most nimble of birds and they prefer to shuffle around on the ground, hoovering up any crumbs dropped by the messy diners on the top floor. They’ll spend long periods, often several at a time, just wandering around between your plants, or on the grass pecking away, sometimes with the crumbs falling on their heads!
The dunnock is easy to overlook, but that’s kind of the point. These shy, skulky birds don’t like to be the centre of attention so will often hop about under bushes, and among plants, before making a quick dash out to grab some spilt food from under your feeders or bird table.
At this time of year, lazy lunchers include baby birds. Look for paler, more washed-out versions of blue and great tits – these are the newly-fledged youngsters. Despite being out of the nest and independent, they still rely on being fed. They’ll even sit on or by hanging feeders, but rather than having a go themselves, they call incessantly, open their beaks, flap their wings rapidly and wait for Mum or Dad to bring them a snack!
Blackbirds have the same issue, but with them the male is left in charge of finishing bringing up the youngsters while the female starts on the next brood. Baby blackbirds are often bigger than the bedraggled looking males, but they still hop around behind him waiting to be fed.
For more about how to spot baby birds, check out our post from a couple of weeks ago.
If you have niger seed out, you’ll hopefully be visited by the gorgeous goldfinch. Their pale beaks are really pointy at the tip. This is so they can extract slender seeds from flowers (think using a pair of tweezers to pick up a pin). Once they’re taken their seats, they’ll stay for minutes on end carefully extracting the shiny black seeds from the tiny holes in the feeder. It’s common for pairs to take one side each.
Selfish scoffers Word soon spreads that dinner is served, but some birds don’t like to share…. Once in position, starlings use their sharp beaks to aim a quick stab at other starlings trying to steal their food and “encourage” them to dine at another table. At this time of year, families of starlings join up into small flocks, so your garden can fill quite rapidly as they descend from nearby trees and roofs. You can recognise the young birds (juveniles) from their lighter, plain brown plumage, but over the coming weeks their spots will start to show.
Social diners Tiny long-tailed tits like to feed together. Watch for them moving through bushes and trees in your garden before arriving on your feeders. Most of their length is their tail, so they arrange themselves on feeders facing in different directions so several can fit on a feeder at a time. Very considerate of them – starlings take note! The flock usually soon moves on in search of the next restaurant to try.
House sparrows are sociable birds too and arrive in noisy chattering family groups. They’ll feed almost anywhere – on feeders, on the bird table and on the ground so it’s easy for them to find places at the table. If you spot a small brown bird that you think might be a sparrow, but it’s all by itself or seems to lack confidence, then that’s more likely to be a dunnock.
Cheeky chancers Sometimes the lure of a tasty snack is just too much and birds that aren’t well equipped for dangling from a swinging feeder pile on in. Jackdaws, crows, rooks, and magpies will suddenly swoop in and try their luck. They'll often spill half the food on the floor in the process, but don’t worry - our lazy lunchers are quick to move and help clear up the mess.
We hope that’s helped you get to know your dinner guests a little better. We’d love to know who’s stopped by to grab a bite to eat. Let us know in the comments below!
Blue tit and great tit, chaffinch and collared doves by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com). Coal tit and blue tit on feeders with family watching in the background by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com). Coal tit in flight by Tony Hamblin (rspb-images.com). Great spotted woodpecker juvenile by David Broadbent (rspb-images.com). Robin and European starling group by Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com). Wood pigeon by Ed Marshall (rspb-images.com). Dunnock by Steve Round (rspb-images.com). Goldfinches by John Bridges (rspb-images.com). Long-tailed tits by Tony Marsh (rspb-images.com). House sparrows by Steve Austin (rspb-images.com). Jackdaw video (rspb-images.com)
This is our first year with both a feeding station and bird box. We have had blue tits nest and were lucky enough to watch the babies fledge, all survived. We have had many birds to our feeder, blue tits, chaffinches, many goldfinches and babies, starlings and babies, sparrows, thrushes, pigeons, magpies and also a regular woodpecker which is stunning. Have thoroughly enjoyed watching these birds and it has certainly kept me busy during lockdown. Sunflower hearts are a big winner in our garden with me having to refill all 3 feeders every couple of days.
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