When I moved into my house (and garden) in December 2014, it had been empty for almost a year and no bird feeding had taken place in that time, and probably for much longer than that.
I immediately put out seed and peanut feeders and started recording the daily comings and goings, and it became an excellent chance to find out how long it would take birds to find the new food supply.
Well, it took just under a week for the first Blue Tits, Great Tits (below) and Coal Tits. However, it was 14 days until the first Chaffinch arrived, another four for the first Goldfinch, 26 days for the first House Sparrow to appear, and only after a whopping 87 days did a Greenfinch show its face.
The first arrivals were of course only the start. It then took many more weeks for numbers to build up as the 'word went around' that there were rich pickings to be had.
All those species have been regular visitors since, so it just shows that feeding birds isn't always an instant hit. It takes time for birds to not only work out that food is present, but also to learn that it is a reliable source.
So, with 10 weeks to go until the Big Garden Birdwatch, now is definitely the time to get all your feeders filled and in place if you are to have the best counts when the weekend comes (26-28 Jan 2019).
I realise that many of you will already have your feeders out and full to the brim. For you, the questions are more about whether there is anything missing from the menu that you could add, or try for the first time. I've certainly changed what I feed over the last few years: I don't feed nyger seed any more as my Goldfinches voted with their beaks for sunflower hearts, and I've switched from fat balls to fatty nibbles, which are much easier for the birds to grab. My Great Spotted Woodpeckers love them!
However, in your garden nyjer seed might still be the bird equivalent of caviar, and fat balls may still be guzzled with relish. Have you changed your feeding habits lately? What works best for you these days?
The other aspect of preparing for Big Garden Birdwatch is all about hygiene. I don't mind admitting that cleaning out bird feeders is one of my least favourite jobs in the garden, but it has to be done. Only this week, I had a fluffed up Greenfinch grubbing around on the ground under the feeders looking lethargic and out-of-sorts, a sure sign of trichomonosis. It is a fatal disease, and it is transferred via saliva. As it is just one incidence so far, I haven't stopped feeding, but I've moved that feeder to another tree so that any spillage is falling on fresh ground.
But it does mean that it is tie to get out the waterproof gloves, a bucket of weak disinfectant and a plunger brush to get the feeders sparkling once more.
Hopefully, it will mean that come next January, our gardens will be full to bursting with record counts. We need some good news, don't we?
I live in a new build estate, but quite close to a small wooded area. It took several years for birds to realise there was food in our little garden for them! Now, we're getting goldfinches, tits, starlings and even both green and spotted woodpeckers. Be patient, they WILL come eventually!
Are you able to rig up some kind of roof? The lower it is, the more than larger birds are likely to be excluded. It will have the added benefit of keeping food dry.
Hi Liz. Yes, I feel that pang of wanting to know I'm not doing more harm than good. A weak (5%) disinfectant solution of any disinfectant is thought to be ok, but always swished down with clean water afterwards. But different disinfectants contain a bewildering range of chemicals, so I like to use something like Ark-Klens which contains a non-corrosive compound called benzalkonium chloride, which is used in the pet trade and is very good at dealing with animal-borne bacteria and bird chlamydia.
Any ideas on how to stop seagulls and woodpigeons taking food from my bird table? I put food on it for blackbirds but it's a losing battle.
We tried niger seeds years ago and they were ignored. Since swapping to sunflower hearts we've had loads of goldfinches. Re. cleaning the bird feeders, it is a pity that manufacturers make it so difficult to remove the base of the feeders for cleaning. The other thing that would be good would be to have replacement tubes available because that is always the weak point in a feeder. It seems that however much you pay for one, the clear plastic tube splits and breaks after removing for cleaning a few times. The rest of it then has to be thrown away.
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