by Harry Pope
We moved last Autumn into independent living accommodation for Eastbourne’s senior people. We haven’t had any kind of garden for many years, so it has been a welcome change to see birds feeding from the feeders we are providing outside our garden doors.
They don’t seem to be fussy, preferring the cheaper supermarket fat balls to the expensive ones from garden centres. You can get a plastic tub containing fifty for £4.25 from Wilco, or somewhere like that, okay it’s heavy to carry, but in bulk far better value for money. The identical tub with the same number of fat balls from a garden centre can easily be £8, and I have seen them for ten. No discernible difference, no idea if they taste the same but the little birdies seem to gobble away on them. Why pay more? We only have one feeder like this, which fits five balls. My, but they go down fast. Just over a day and it needs filling again, especially with the jackdaws. The balls get smaller the more they are pecked away at, until they are sufficiently sized to be pulled through the bottom rungs. Peck peck peck go the jackdaw’s jaws, until the beak can pull it through and the bird flies away triumphantly.
The jackdaw is the largest bird to sit astride the feeder, anything bigger and it is either too heavy, or can’t get sufficient purchase on the bars to stay and feed successfully. The starlings are something to behold. When the feeder is full, there can be four of them perching together. This morning there was a mother with four babies, didn’t realise that the youngsters were already the same size as their mother, and it is still mid-May. They were able to fly, but on the ground, expecting to be fed. Mother was pecking away at the feeder, making sure there was a constant supply that was falling to the ground. She then, one by one, took a slice of food and shoved it down their willing open beaks.
We also have two feeders that have bird seed in them. The quality can vary depending on the retailer, also the value for money. The biggest and cheapest bags are to be found on Tesco shelves. I pay £3.50 for a very large bag that lasts for three weeks. If you look closely at the sparrows when they are perching on the bottom bars when placing their beaks inside the hole, they can be quite fastidious. Watch very closely, and they don’t eat it all, but some is taken in their beak, then very quickly discarded. There are certainly some seeds that they prefer over others, but my eyesight is too slow to make out what is what.
Two doves give a lot of pleasure. He drags his closed tailfeathers along the ground, then up on his toes to show his chest to the maximum. She walks away, he is right behind, ready to fly up on her back at the slightest show of acceptance. It never happens, she is always too fast for him, usually culminating in flying away. How they ever produce eggs is a wonder to me if the mating ritual is so complicated.
We also have one seagull that occasionally visits. There is nothing here for him, as he can’t possibly balance on anything above ground, being a bottom feeder. His beak is too big to be able to successfully gather seeds, his food has to be in bigger pieces. We don’t like gulls in any case, they make a lot of unnecessary noise. We also have occasional visitors, such as collared dove, a solitary robin, and a pair of blackbirds.
Local houses have four cats, one is lovely and peeks in our doors, but is too timid to come in. That is probably because other senior residents make threatening unwelcome gestures. Of course it is their nature to be predatory, one feline is more successful. But the most interesting bird is the sparrowhawk.
We have just the one, that’s enough. It will attack larger birds as well, is quite beautiful to see, swooping down on the little ones as they feed. Our feeders are in bushes, providing a natural protection, so on the rare occasion we see the sparrowhawk the little ones are too afraid, shivering in the branches until it is safe to emerge. My wife once saw the predator right outside our door, waiting for the frightened sparrows, he soon flew away when the threw open the door, screaming at him. No surprise there, anyone would.
Harry Pope’s first Ballygobackwards Castle short ghost story is available to buy on Amazon for a very reasonable 99p. Winter shows dying people how to arrive on their next stage, but why is he stopping George from entering the locked room. The Locked Room, by Harry Pope.
Harry’s latest writing successes: Buried Secrets, sold over 5,000 copies on Amazon, £2.99 e-version, or £6.99 printed.
Hotel Secrets (don’t buy that hotel) £3.99 e-version, £5.99 Amazon
Six long ghost stories all about Ballygobackwards Castle. A series of ghost stories also audio. Find on Amazon, very reasonable 99p each.