Friday, May 27, 2016

Tooth and Claw

In springtime, either a great or lesser-spotted woodpecker came to our garden, first to  inspect our bird boxes (empty) and then to indulge his or her appetite on my experimental fillings of halved coconut shells.
We were delighted to see such an exotic bird in our small garden, rather forgetting that on a previous year, such a bird came to consume our entire brood of robin nestlings.
Anyhow, it was not only a new visitor but also one thoroughly enjoying my mix of bird food. Robins, great tits, blue tits, long tailed tits, coal tits and even dunnocks have also pecked away at it – the less acrobatic birds with difficulty.
When carrion crows perch on nearby television aerials and croak, they are looking for nestlings to eat. When they have found this food source, the poor youngsters are taken in the beak and flown up to a high perch to be torn apart and eaten. Magpies do the same, but those have been scarcer of late.
With our regular great tits deserting their annual breeding home in our nest box (probably one taken by a cat or succumbed to old age), our attention was drawn to a nearby neighbour’s nest box of blue tits. The young were about to fledge, when a woodpecker (perhaps ours) ate the lot.
How, I wondered, had the miscreant managed to raid the box without enlarging the entrance hole? It was suggested that just by creating noise and beak action near to the hole drew the young up to feed – only to become food themselves.
This, I suppose, is nature’s way of keeping the balance right between predatory creatures and their victims.
After all, if the young of every nestful of garden birds survived, there would probably not be enough territory or food to go around.
My popular bird food is pressed into half coconut shells with holes in them to attach hanging cord. The shell is then filled with the following: lamb’s kidney fat and suet fat (Atora will do) cut up. Heat this slowly in a saucepan until the fat has liquefied and can be poured into a bowl off the solid matter. In a liquidiser turn porridge and bran almost into powder form. Stir this into the warm fat as much as it will take – which is quite a lot. Now, with a wooden spoon, press this mixture into the shells to become cold and hard before hanging them in the garden out of the reach of cats.

Birds take time to become used to anything new. So before they start to enjoy your offering, a little patience might be needed.