It’s nearly December and all but the hardiest leaves have dropped from their branches. But if you look carefully at the trees in my garden, you will see something else hanging there. Fat balls, coconut halves, feeders full of peanuts, suet pellets and dried mealworms decorate the stark twigs, calling out to the hungry local birds.
I have a tiny garden but with careful (or to be honest, rather haphazard and lazy) planning I’ve created a little haven for birds, insects and hedgehogs. House sparrows, magpies, pigeons and blackbirds are my year-round guests. With blue tits, starlings, crows, blackcaps, long-tailed tits and great tits popping by as their hunger dictates.
The house sparrows are my favourites (don’t tell the magpies that!). According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the house sparrow is in decline with numbers in towns and cities declining by 60 per cent. But a quick look at my garden shows where they’re possibly all hiding. It’s not unusual for my small patch of grass to be alive with thirty or more of the little brown balls dancing, pecking and scrapping. For small birds, they are exceptionally loud — especially when they stand on the branch outside my bedroom window indignantly informing me that the feeders need filling.
The sound of birdsong is an obvious pleasure you receive for feeding the birds. From sunrise to sunset, different songs, conversations and warnings will be played out across air. I’m studying for an MA in Travel & Nature Writing and many of my fellow students are experts in identifying bird calls. Indeed my tutor is an actual expert with several books about birds to his name. They can identify birds from half a mile away by a single tweet. But I’m getting better at it — some are obvious, the raspy chatter of the magpies or the lyrical songs of the blackbirds. Sometimes, I join in the conversations, much to the amusement of my husband. But I like to think that the birds and I have a special understanding.
The cacophony of starlings fighting over a fat ball (while ignoring the two with no one on!) often draws me to the window. Starlings fight in the most melodramatic fashion — beaks jabbing, they fly upwards, wings beating the air and each other, screeching they fall back to earth, one of them somehow the winner, the other flies off to a nearby shed roof to sulk. I watch from behind the curtain, a guilty pleasure like peering over your menu as the couple at the next table have a barely veiled arguement.
The sounds of the birds change with the seasons as parents-to-be busy themselves building nests, then the babies take their first flights out into the big world, followed by panicked chirrups if they can’t see their mother nearby. The summer allegro becomes fortissimo in the autumn as the birds fight to be heard over seasonal winds and rain.
No matter the time of year it’s hard to wake up grumpy when you wake to the sounds of nature right outside your window.
As well as a relaxing soundtrack, I also enjoy the company the birds provide and the pleasure of observing their personalities. This year we had a family of six magpies who spent most of their day flitting in and out. A highlight of my summer was watching the mother and father teaching their babies how to land on the fence. I spent hours watching the babies miss their landing, fall, then style it out as though they meant to do that. All the while the mother looks down from the fence, I swear she was shaking her head in despair.
This year most of my spring and summer was spent in the garden (book, wine, cake, the balsam of lockdown). The more the birds saw me, the more they relaxed, bravely coming closer, occasionally right up to the patio window, much to the chagrin of the cats (repeat after me “friends not food”). A few minutes here and there lost in watching them, forgetting everything else that was happening in the world, letting nature in and being accepted as part of their world.
They are my escape. The time we share, although heavily anthropomorphized by me (I’m a writer after all!), allows my mind to wander and play and remember that we are part of something much bigger than our everyday worries and distractions.
You don’t need much space to start feeding birds — or even a garden, stick-on feeding boxes will attract birds to your window. If you’re not sure what to feed your birds you can check out this helpful guide from the RSPB.
The world is pants at the moment and we all need that little something that never fails to bring a smile to our face. For me, that is my beautiful wild birds. They brighten my day, make me smile with their little quirks and provide a natural soundtrack to my day.