Feed the birds and they’ll reward you! 

A brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).

A brambling (Fringilla montifringilla). - Credit: S Gall (Shutterstock)

This week I have bought a new bird feeding station for the garden. Once set up it will be the second such feature in the garden and will hopefully attract a segment of birds I have, until now, been unable to draw in. 

The current feeder offers seed, peanuts and occasionally fat balls and is frequented by great, blue and coal tits daily.

Nuthatches and the occasional great spotted woodpecker also visit and, thanks to their messy feeding habits, dunnocks, robins and woodpigeons are well supplied from the food-fall below. It seems nuthatches in particular are determined to pick out the juicy sunflower hearts, discarding all else and reminds me of my eldest daughter flicking sultanas and raisins out of her cereal mix, a look of disdain on her face! 

My current feeder is situated close to the house and surrounded by bushes but this, it seems, does not suit the finch family with just fleeting visits from chaffinches and lesser redpolls in the past. These birds, along with greenfinches, goldfinches, siskins and the occasional bullfinch do visit the garden but tend to stay at high level, in the treetops. 

Of course, they are finding natural food – not least the plane trees’ seed balls that the goldfinches love – but I can’t help feeling they are also eyeing up my garden and its lack of feeder provision and moving on to some more attentive neighbour’s garden. No more! For I have visions of flocks of finches descending to gobble up the smorgasbord of provision that I am about to unleash. 

My motivation is, of course, mainly selfish – fuelled by visions of feeders loaded with birds put out there by the RSPB to generate enthusiasm for its annual Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January. But my desires are also part prompted by the onset of severe cold weather to which many birds are very vulnerable. 

First thing this morning I watched a male blackbird visit a tray of water I had put out earlier in the year as a bird bath. I realised as it flew off that the water had frozen and so I broke the ice – an inch thick – and watched again. Just a few minutes later and the blackbird was back whereupon he enjoyed a long drink. While I might be taking pleasure from watching birds drink and bathe it is easy to forget that for them these things are critical for survival. 

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I’m not expecting any sudden influx of new birds as it will take time for the contraption to be accepted (and for me to decide exactly where’s best to put it). I am hoping however that, in time, it will add to the variety, colour and activity within the garden – something that has become so cherished this last year. A bird feeder is a doorway, a portal into the garden from the wider wild outside and provides the opportunity to ‘change things up’ in the garden. 

I was reminded again just a few days ago of just how much joy birds can bring when all without is grey, cold and miserable and threatening to cast a shadow on all within too. In anticipation of a roast dinner and log fire I went out to do battle with a blizzard and walked until I was warm. The thin icy layer of snow made every surface feel hard, cold and impenetrable. 

Even in the shelter of some woods the sounds of tiny goldcrests feeding in the tops of pines seemed to quiver and shiver with their movements. Watching them through binoculars and feeling their cold I suddenly alighted on a vision of warmth – a beautiful male brambling sitting against a pale backdrop of birch bark. His vibrant orange breast and yellow bill was like a burning flame in the cold. It was a rare treat as bramblings only visit us in winter and often remain hidden within the more familiar chaffinch flocks. 

I had assumed the evening’s food and fire comforts would warm me but actually it was brambling that really warmed my day from the inside out!  I hope that it won’t be too long before this little winter blaze of colour lights up my new garden bird feeder too.