This may be one the (many) things about us Brits which bemuses our friends from overseas. This weekend, more than 600,00 of us will spend an hour watching the birds in our garden and logging the details to a website. Our European neighbours like to catch and eat small birds. We like to feed and watch them (the birds, obviously, not the European neighbours).
In the town where I live there is a market on a Saturday. There is a stall which sells all manner of seed and feed for wild birds. There’s always a queue, and on cold days they sell out (i.e. they sell everything they’ve got, not they start to make bland, commercial albums, betraying their original fan base).
I make no apology about it. I am seriously into this peculiar British obsession. This was my Christmas present from my parents.
We do occasionally visit nature reserves to do some more serious bird watching, but it’s the garden birds I really love. Also, the Beautiful Armenian seems to have a fantasy about having sex in a bird hide and can get a bit giggly and skittish when we’re out.
Anyway, we seem to do very well for garden birds. Our garden only just scrapes into the RSPB large category (size of one tennis court), but we are very near lots of countryside and we have an old field hedge as one of our boundaries which birds love.
These are some of my favourite visitors to our garden.
The Small Boy Wonder has about as much interest in birds as I do in Blackberry Messenger, but even he said that this was a “pretty cool bird” when I pointed one out to him. I think they are beautiful – that combination of slate grey back and rich pink breast.
They have a special place in my heart, because when I was a child our next door neighbour used to shoot them in large numbers, I think to protect his fruit trees. He was an odious man, and it makes me very happy to see them apparently making something of a comeback, at least round here.
You’ve got to be joking, I hear fellow bird-lovers say. Those hooligans of the bird table, who descend in an unruly gang and go through the food like a swarm of hungry teenagers?
I love them. Yes, they do make a big mess, but that brings other birds to the garden who clear up after them. Again, there’s a childhood connection. There was a wood near where I grew up where starlings used to congregate in their thousands and thousands to roost. All through the late afternoon you could watch flock upon flock heading for the woods.
Starlings have declined by about 70% in the last thirty years or so, and so they are welcome in my back yard any time they like. Also, Chris Packham says they are very cool, and I wouldn’t argue with a word he says about wildlife. I’ve never seen the spectacular flying displays of the vast flocks, but it’s one thing I would love to see before I die.
I was so excited a couple of years ago when I realised we had these in the garden. However, it’s probably a sign of global warming, and ours seem not to have read the Handbook of British Birds, which clearly says that they feed from bird tables. Come on chaps, stop skulking around in the hedge.
Another bird on the up. These are the bling-merchants of the bird world. Gaudy and over dressed, but with a beautiful song.
Like the starling, this may raise some eyebrows. But like the starling this once very common bird is in decline. If starlings are teenagers, these guys are toddlers – noisy, lively and in to everything.
Again, having these around makes me very happy. We don’t see them often, but they love the berries in our hedge and seem to be able to eat their body weight several times over.
Another bird that visits us in little gangs. They’re like little mice with wings, scurrying up and down the nut feeder, but never staying very long
Now, look away if you are a small bird reading this blog. Because my last favourite, you won’t like.
This guy is smart. We feed the little birds, making them plump and complacent. The sparrowhawk eats the little birds.
But how lonely must it be to be a sparrowhawk? Every other bird in your world detests you. Everywhere you go, you make others flee.
I also think it’s one of those profoundly wonderful things about nature that small birds are hard-coded to recognise the shape of a sparrowhawk.
As I say, I think we do very well. On a really cold day, it’s like freakin’ Springwatch out there. You half expect Packham to turn up with Kate Humble (
about whom the Beautiful Armenian has something of a girl crush who my wife says is the sort of girl she would find attractive if she were a man).