Urban Wildlife Garden

The birds have been a bit twitchy lately. They had become so used to my feeding routine they would often be down eating while I was still inside the shed sorting out a new fat ball. Then they would spend the whole morning mooching around the garden until every seed was hunted down. Well, that was before the incident. Now, they just sit on the roof for long hours looking at the food lying beneath them on the ground. Perhaps they are admiring the unique patterning of the scattered seeds which must look something like a Pollock from their perspective. Or perhaps they were witness to another hit a run attack in my urban oasis.

Every now and then a brave soul will come off the roof to hover over the seed, only to rest finally on the fence. It may be joined there by a few of the others but none of them are willing to be the first to put beak to seed. Wild animals face this dilemma throughout their lives. Eat and be eaten or stay safe and starve.

Even the starlings won’t come down for the mealworm and suet pellets. By mid-morning they hungrily hit the feeders in a rush, gobble up what they can and fly off. Guerrilla style eating raids replacing the usual argy bargy banter at the feeding tray. So what has spooked them I wondered and then I saw the culprit.

A tabby moggy who would appear from round the side of the shed and use the cover of the pyracantha to pounce on its prey. Once all the birds had departed this intruder would crouch on the floor to eat the peanuts and seeds, crunch crunch, with just no respect for the artistic design.

It occurred to me that what these birds needed was a stool-pigeon. A volunteer to sit on the fence and give them all an early warning. It could be a different pigeon every day on a rota basis but pigeon etiquette didn’t provide for such an option. Instead they all fed furiously until the first one became spooked. Sometimes there would just be a few seconds between landing and taking off again.

One particular pigeon had an annoying habit of sitting in contemplation on the garden table. He would watch the others gobbling up the seed and when the time was right he would belly flop onto their backs causing them all to take flight, giving him prime position until they returned again.

Interestingly, the change in routine did encourage a number of different birds to visit the garden. The collared doves who generally visited in pairs were able to clean up all the seed left by the reluctant pigeons. Equally, the robin and blue tit were more willing to visit the fat ball and nuts without the rabble starlings giving them grief. In nature there are always winners and losers. But fearful of another fatality I decided to put up a cat deterrent to give the birds a fighting chance. I put a row of plastic spikes on the fence closest to the feeders, the usual stalking route for tabby moggy. The cat can still enter the garden (and does so) by walking across the shed and coming in the other side. But at least from this approach there is plenty of time for the birds to take off. Let us see how long it takes for peace to be restored.

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