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By Mike Clark
Itís Never Too Late
If youíre an elderberry wine aficionado like me, itís too late.
Our feathered friends have had most of them by now.
And if you were too late with the netting, they probably had your strawberries and rasps as well.
So what do you want from me?
A fiendish plan to safeguard all your fruit from the winged enemy?
A black market surface-to-air missile guaranteed to annihilate all flying predators?
Sorry, folks - youíre barking up the wrong gardener.
All our native garden birds are in decline. We have a responsibility. By all means net the fruit you want for yourself, but leave a little for our feathered friends.
And now the fruiting season is over, spare a thought for those who donít have a freezer.
If theyíre not it your garden, it may be because theyíve found richer pickings elsewhere. Or it may be that there are simply less birds to go round these days. Believe it. Many of our once common garden birds are in decline. We gardeners can do a great deal to help our feathered friends through the cold, hungry days of winter.
November is the most important month to start feeding, when natureís autumn harvest is beginning to wear thin. But once youíve started (and I hope you have), you must continue until at least April, when they tend to disperse to their favourite breeding grounds. Meantime, they have become dependant on you. Donít let them down.
However, it is now generally recognised that feeding beyond April is important, and indeed there is much evidence to support year round feeding. Supplementary food in the breeding season can sometimes prove vital.
Traditionally, bird food has been scraps and waste products. But more recent research has shown just how harmful this can be. Some products sold were (and still are if you buy the cheap stuff) toxic to birds. Our feeding must emulate nature as closely as possible - ie natural products without chemicals which are already doing so much harm to our native bird population.
When feeding, in practical terms, remember that there are two distinct feeding types. Clinging feeders (Tits and Finches, for example), and ground feeders like Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins. Obviously, then, you need to provide for both - by scattering food on the ground, and providing hanging feeders for the ďclingersĒ.
A compromise is the old traditional bird table, which offers a platform for ground feeders (above cat height, which is an advantage!), but is also accessible by virtue of height, to clingers. A useful point to remember, though, is to site your bird table, or your hanging feeders, in an open location, not within the spread of shrubs or trees. Birds will feed more happily in an open location, where they can keep one eye out for predators.
Iíve kept the most important bit till last. Water.
We never think, do we? We fill the bird table and scatter seed on the frozen ground. But we forget that birds canít drink ice. Birds will survive for days without food, but like us they canít survive for long without water.
So place a shallow dish of water on the bird table, and another on the ground nearby, during those freezing days when all around the garden is ice. And donít forget to change them when they freeze. And if you have a garden pond, melt a patch of ice as you would if you have fish. Thatís at least another option for them.
The RSPB website offers a wealth of information, not only on garden bird feeding, but on birds in general.
Itís a sad state of affairs, but please remember that our natural bird population now depends on unnatural assistance (you and me) for its survival. Think about that. Please.
© Mike Clark 2002.