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Its Not All Black And White

2nd of July 2002

Once the great spotted woodpeckers start to drum on dead branches to proclaim their territories in spring their visits to our peanut feeders increase. They do visit throughout the winter but once the drumming starts I have to buy twice as many nuts! This year they nested in an old silver birch tree in our little wood at the top of the garden. Birches are always a favourite and this tree has been used before. This time they made the hole a bit lower down and a bracket fungus made it look as though it had a porch roof. The chicks are very noisy, constantly badgering their parents for more food. During the last ten days their visits had increased even more than usual, then on Sunday at least three arrived for a family picnic. Dad is the most usual visitor, he has a red patch on the nape of his neck, and he bought along at least two youngsters who sat in the Prunus just behind the feeder whilst he made numerous trips back and forth to feed them. The young are easy to tell from their parents as they sport bright red caps on the top of their heads. They will keep these until they moult in the autumn. Today, Wednesday, one of the youngsters has managed to land on the feeder himself, while the other perched on the branch that holds the feeder and good old Dad hopped back and forth to feed it. Nice to see dad doing his share!
These days we feed the birds all year round but in the past it was thought unwise as chicks may choke on whole peanuts. The trick is to make sure that the birds cant remove whole peanuts from the feeder. Research has shown that blue tits feed themselves on the peanuts and keep the caterpillars for their young.

A well fed parent stands a much better chance of finding a nice lot of caterpillars for its family, so feeding the peanuts should actually make them even better pest controllers. This year wrens have nested in a “roosting pocket” that I was given a couple of Christmases ago, and whilst working in the greenhouse we saw the first youngster leave the nest.

Not very graceful but it made it safely into some ivy. Not all the birds have been so lucky: our dear little long tailed tits nest was raided, probably by magpies, and judging by the feathers left on top of the burberis bush, at least one of the parents was killed defending it. It had been so nice to have them so close to the bungalow and we had hardly seen a magpie during the winter but as soon as the birds started nesting a pair arrived. Im afraid I dont agree with the RSPB, who claim the increase in magpies has nothing to do with the decrease in songbirds. There are murderous thoughts in my heart! Wendy Bathurst

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