Bird Feeders – Ray Colliers Wildlife in the North

Great Spotted WoodpeckerReaders have been commenting about the lack of birds at garden feeders during the summer and so much so that they have not had much seed to put out. Nyjer has always been one of the most attractive of the wide range of feed but many people have said that they have not had to top up these feeders for very many weeks. This has been reflected in the amounts of feed, especially the nyjer, sold by the various suppliers such as garden centres. The only feed that has not dropped is the sunflower hearts. There have even been very few blue and great tits at feeders although, for some unexplained reason, the numbers of coal tits seemed to have been about average. Chaffinch numbers, usually the stalwart of the garden birds, have been much lower than normal for a summer. The reason has been the abundance of “wild” food in hedges, woodland and even some areas of farmland.

However, in the last couple of weeks all that has changed and with the onset of the first cold spell the birds have started to come back. Interestingly, unlike previous winters, this was not sudden. In the past I have recorded sudden influxes of birds to garden feeders up to 24 hours before the first sharp frosts as if the birds knew there was an imminent change of weather. They obviously did not need a weather forecast to put them right! This year the change was more subtle with a few more greenfinches to start with and a marked increase in chaffinches. Blue tits and great tits numbers gradually rose until now they are back to normal for this time of the year and the weather. There is one bird that has been marked by its almost total absence and several readers have commented on this. It is the siskin that is a garden favourite in many people’s eyes, including mine. Normally they would be gathering on the nyjer, peanuts, hearts and even mixed seed, but often there have been none or just a single bird. Their wild food is mainly seed, especially those of spruce, pine, alder and birch so perhaps the flocks are out there and will be until the seed source ends.

So the winter birds will soon be back in their usual numbers, so what attracts them to our gardens? To start with in the countryside, when the food is still there it can be more difficult to find for birds affected by the cold and needing plenty of input. In gardens the regular food is there all the time just for the taking, although there is still competition from so many birds in a relatively small area. There is also the fact that gardens are warmer than the surrounding countryside. This is particularly marked in towns and cities where the overall temperatures may be a few degrees higher. Even villages may have slight increase in temperature.

One of the most attractive birds that has been present in the summer and will remain all through the winter is the great-spotted woodpecker and both the male and female will now be coming into feeders. I have recorded them at suet balls, mixed grain, peanuts and even apples on trees or on the ground. However, last week there was one on a new feeder and it was feeding on sunflower hearts. Perhaps it was the new feeder put out with large holes, as in the photograph, for the bird to help itself. Those red feathers of the nape and under tails are just superb.