Visit from ‘Hawk’ Halts Bird Feeding Frenzy

A Common Finch arrived on the peanut feeder at the front of the house half an hour after the departure of the 'hawk' from the back garden. ©Photographs: john Reidy
A Common Finch arrived on the peanut feeder at the front of the house half an hour after the departure of the ‘hawk’ from the back garden. ©Photographs: john Reidy

The fat-ball, peanut and seed holders outside my window here were inundated with an unprecedented flock of Fieldfares and Redwings in recent weeks. Then, all of a sudden the whole scene went quiet.

Yesterday, the feeding station was abandoned and deathly quiet and the crows were in an agitated, raucous and restless state.

The cats too seemed on high alert over something or other.

I discovered the something or other on a look out the kitchen window. There, in the back yard, two cats, crouched and staring skyward, diverted my gaze to the top of an old Sycamore stump and this beautiful creature perched there.

Bird Food and Feeders

Running for my camera and a suitable lens, the ‘hawk’ obligingly stayed put for long enough for me to get a frame or two.

That’s the mystery of the abandoned feeding station solved as the station’s little visitors would themselves be a meal for the visiting raptor. The Fieldfares are gone without trace this morning and the finches and tits are slowly returning to their dining area.

I’m no expert on the species but our visitor looks like a Hen Harrier – maybe one of our readers may be able to fill us in.

Because it’s that time of the year anyway and I was about to set a reminder here for those so inclined to get the bird feeders and the food lined up for the season ahead.

Browne’s Agri and Builders’ Providers carry an extensive range of wild bird food and feeders and the Birdwatch Ireland site provides us with a great guide to the best and favourite foods to hang out at this time of year.

Looking after our feathered friends in their hour of need isn’t just all about giving. Watching their antics and even trying to photograph them can be quite therapeutic – if you’re one of these people who can sit awhile and enjoy the finer thing in nature.

List of Foods

The following is a list of foods and recommendations on how our little friends should be treated. It is interesting to note that the different foods you can put out will attract so many different species. There are bird identification, pocket books available in bookshops which will heighten your enjoyment of having these wonderful creatures visit your garden.

Peanuts are Popular

Peanuts are the most popular food for garden birds and attract a wide range of species. Be sure to buy from a reputable supplier as mouldy peanuts can kill birds. When feeding during the spring and summer ensure all peanuts are fed from a mesh peanut feeder, as whole peanuts can be harmful to young birds.

Highly Nutritious

Black sunflower seed is a highly nutritious and popular food for birds, especially the tits and finches. It has a higher oil level and energy value than the striped-shell variety of sunflower seed, often sold alongside, which tends not to be as popular with the birds, although they will eat it. ‘Mixed Wild-bird Seed’ is often sold at a seemingly good price but often doesn’t attract the birds; much of this mixture is either wheat or corn and, apart from pigeons, few garden birds can digest this food source.

Don’t Waste Fat

Don’t waste any fat! It’s a nutritious food for garden birds. Lumps of suet may be hung out and meat trimmings, bacon rinds and table scraps will also be eaten gratefully. The large ‘Fat Balls’ which can be bought in pet shops often prove highly popular – you can also make your own home-made version by pouring melted fat over bread or cake scraps to make ‘bird cake’. This can be made even more nutritious if some seeds, nuts, oatmeal, grated cheese or dried fruits are added. Use half a pound of fat per pound of dry ingredients. Coconut shells and yogurt cartons make suitable moulds.

Apples and Pears

Often overlooked, fruit will attract several species of bird which may not otherwise visit your garden. Apples and pears cut in half and placed on the ground will attract Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, and in particularly hard weather they might bring in Redwing and Fieldfare. Spearing cut apples onto the ends of branches will also attract Blackcaps. Smaller fruit such as grapes will also be taken. A coconut sawn in half and hung upside down from the branch of a tree is welcomed and much enjoyed by the tits.

Grain-based foods

These are always available in the kitchen and include bread, biscuits and stale cake. Modern processed bread is not suitable for wild birds and should be avoided where possible. Grated whole-meal bread should be moistened slightly, as this makes it easier for the birds to swallow. Moist bread is also less likely to blow away or be taken off in pieces by the larger, more aggressive birds. Maize flakes, oat flakes and even puppy meal are other valuable food sources. In very cold weather, cheese scattered on the ground beneath bushes should attract wrens and help them through difficult conditions.

Rules of Feeding

1. Feed regularly: don’t put out lots of feeders and then forget to refill them. Birds can become dependant on a food source during harsh weather.

2. Only use fresh peanuts and seed. Do not feed mouldy, wrinkled or wizened peanuts or seed.

3. Ensure fresh water is always available for drinking and bathing. An upturned dustbin lid with a stone in it is often all that is required. Be sure to remove the ice in cold weather so that birds can drink.

4. Birds often feed on the ground below a feeder. Make sure that there is no shrubbery nearby that could conceal a cat, and try to keep all feeders at least 5-6 feet above the ground.

5. Remember to wash all feeders and to change the water in the bird bath on a regular basis.

Can I feed all year round?

Winter is not the only time we can help birds by feeding them – feeding between the months of April and October can also be helpful, as there is a great demand on natural resources due to the increase in hungry mouths to feed. Only put out peanuts in a fine mesh container so that parent birds cannot take large pieces that might cause young chicks to choke, and avoid fats completely. Safe foods to use at this time of year include sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, sultanas, raisins, currants and mealworms.

For more information on the birds of Ireland you can log onto the BWI site with a click on the link here:

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