Autumn is a great time to go bird watching with birds migrating to the UK from the Arctic, Russia and Scandinavia.
Usually this involves a trek to a nearby wilderness location but this autumn the action seems to have transferred to our own backyard.
A gluttony of autumn birds – if that’s a collective noun – have been ducking and diving in our garden including some first-time visitors.
The Brambling is a beautiful rust coloured bird which always reminds me of autumn with its orange breast and chestnut brown feathers.
I’ve never seen one in our garden before but this autumn has brought these farmland birds swooping in.
In fact, there’s been some very odd goings-on in the back garden over the weekend.
Last Saturday I saw four new garden birds as well as unusual visitors and a pack of unruly, vagrant grey squirrels.
First there was the Brambling, sauntering around on the lawn looking a little bemused.
Then a female Blackcap flew in from a nearby tree and popped onto the feeder where it stayed glued for five minutes. It returned time and time again for several days.
Blackcaps often migrate to Africa in winter but a few are known to stick around. I’ve never ever seen one in the garden before.
Finally, a Nuthatch has become a regular visitor on the popular ‘buggy nibbles’, another first for us.
Another garden first – a Pied Wagtail – was seen hopping around the lawn, hoovering up the seeds and fat balls dropped by other birds on the feeders above.
On the same day a large flock of Long-tailed Tits flew in to feed whilst two stunning Greater-spotted Woodpeckers fought it out for the fat balls.
Then, a large group of Goldfinches, regulars on our niger seed feeder, had brought all their mates and there were a few squabbles over the garden grub.
It was soon developing into the sort of display you’d see from the bird hide at our local wildlife centre at Washington – but this was from the comfort of the living room.
There were also a big flurry of regular visitors like Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, although I have a sneaking suspicion from their numbers that some of these were Scandinavian migrants.
In a single day a large, our well-stocked bird feeder was decimated by avian visitors.
Garden bird mecca
So why has our garden suddenly become a mecca for a whole host of birds?
You’d expect a shortage of berries at this time of year as their supply dwindles as we move into winter but this can’t be the only explanation.
Apparently the extremely wet summer and the failure of agricultural crops have meant that there’s less food around for autumn birds. Seeds are particularly in short supply.
Scandinavia and Russia as well as Britain have been badly affected by poor farm crops this year.
As a result, many European and UK birds which normally wouldn’t be seen in a suburban garden are flocking in, feasting on garden feeders.
It’s a joy to see them and I’m hopeful that our red-berried bushes might attract a flock of Waxwings, one of my favourite winter birds.
But if this is a sign of the impact of climate change, it’s a worrying trend.
The up side is that rather than travelling around to spot birds at obscure nature reserves all the time, why not occasionally indulge in the joys of garden bird watching?
Guess I’d better get outside and stack up the food in those bird feeders!
Video courtesy of YouTube – Paul Masters
Attracting garden birds
Here are a few tips for attracting bird to any garden, small or large.
- Make your garden into a wildlife haven by keeping it relatively unkempt with plenty of bushes and trees for birds to hide in or use as perching places. Over-manicured birds tend to have less cover and a lack of interesting undergrowth.
- Plants loved by birds include berried bushes, honeysuckle, cotoneaster and climbing shrubs.
- Put out plenty of bird food in autumn and winter to supplement birds’ regular diets.
- Tits and finches like seeds and nuts whilst many birds enjoy fat balls. Goldfinches love niger seeds and sunflower hearts. The RSPB also sells meal worms, suet treats and ‘buggy nibbles’ for birds. Our woodpecker is a big fan of the buggy and fruity nibbles.
- Try to include a garden bird table for Blackbirds, Robins and Thrushes. Many of these birds also enjoy fruit such as apples and pears.
- A water bowl is a useful addition for thirsty birds.
- Don’t feed birds on anything that isn’t part of their natural diet such as bread and starchy foods which they can’t digest properly.
- The RSPB has stacks of great ideas for making your garden more wildlife friendly as well as guides to less common garden birds.
- Feeders may also attract grey squirrels. Last year one jumped eight feet from a bird table onto our feeder. You have been warned!