Garden Bird Feeding – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Today, Ray gives us insight into the birds he sees in his garden, with bird feeders contributing to the variety of birds he sees. If you would like to see more birds in your garden, why not provide them with a feeder? Over the winter months small birds need a great deal of food that is increasingly hard to come by just to survive, so you’ll be giving nature a hand as well as seeing more garden activity.

If you would like to see some highland birdlife first hand, many of our holiday cottages have feeders and all are situated near forests or other habitats that are abundant with wildlife, often just being quiet and waiting is all that’s required. We look forward to seeing you in 2017.

Last week was a good time to be looking at those bird feeders in the garden as various uncommon birds  species have been on the move.  In contrast some common birds have been absent and others have been only occasional visitors to the various feeders.   The bird that has been noted by its absence is the siskin as normally at this  time of the year it is normally one of the commonest, after the chaffinches and titmice.  Yet I have not seen any siskins for a few weeks, not even a single bird.  I can only think that there is still a great deal of natural food around. They particularly like the  seed of spruce and pine trees but will also freely take seed from alders and birch trees.  They will also feed on the seeds of a range of plants such as dandelions, docks, thistles and meadowsweet.   They will freely go for peanuts in garden feeders but will also go for  seed mix and their beaks can tackle the niger feeders.  They seem to be one of the very few birds that will not tackle the suet balls.

In contrast the long-tailed tits seem to be only occasional visitors to the garden these days.  If you are outside you can hear their call notes that are high pitched and sound like ”see,see,see”.  Unfortunately, they are one of several birds that I cannot hear any more, the goldcrest is another,  which happens with age.  As for the feeders, suddenly they are there at my feeders and there is a party of twelve that suddenly descend.   They seem to favour the suet ball feeder more  than  any other but they will also go for the mixed seed.     For the photographer  they are a nightmare as they are so active it is difficult  for the autofocus on the camera to work successfully.   It really is a case of hit or miss as most of the time  only a few of the birds are in focus at any one time.   Seeing them on the suet or mixed seed or even peanuts is a surprise as for the summer months they feed on flies, beetles, spiders and the eggs, caterpillars, pupa and adults of moth and butterflies.  The change to solid food, which means they can visit  garden feeders, is a recent change.

One of the other uncommon visitors to garden feeders is the brambling  as in most years I only get one or two.  However, they are easily overlooked when they are feeding with chaffinches as the male of these two birds are, in the winter months, easy to confuse.   Last week I was looking at the various birds  on the feeders and suddenly there was something different  and it was  a male brambling at the mixed seed.  Apart for the brambling there were three chaffinches at the  same feeder and I had to look twice to make sure my identification was  correct.  Fortunately  the camera  was at hand although the bird was so active it took some time to get the attached photograph.   The orange on the breast and the blackish head may look conspicuous  but it is easy to confuse with a male chaffinch.

The other surprise was at the mixed seed feeder and it was a tree sparrow which is one of my favourite garden birds for some reason.   We normally just get one a year so to see  a pair together was indeed a treat.    For some reason this bird is increasing as a garden visitor and it would be great if a pair took over one of the nestboxes put up for house sparrows.  Watch this space.