Our first winter with a garden (meaning last winter) we put up a bird feeder for suet balls. We had quite a lot of visitors during late autumn, to the point where we started thinking that we’d need to ration the balls because of cost. Then winter came, and suddenly there were hardly any birds at our feeder. Our theory is that they found better food elsewhere.
This year we upgraded to a seed feeder. We kept the suet ball feeder, too, but now we also have a little hut on a stick, filled with seeds. This way we can vary the food. It also allowed us to move the bird food further away from the house. The suet ball feeder hangs off the kitchen window, which meant that the twitchier birds would fly away as soon as anyone moved in the kitchen.
The new location seems perfect. We’ve got a good view of it from our dinner table. It’s far enough to for the birds to consider it mostly safe. It’s got various trees, bushes, eaves etc. within a few metres, in several directions, which allows the birds to scout out the area before coming in for a feed.
First we bought some sort of seed mix consisting mainly of oats and sunflower seeds. The sunflower seeds got eaten, but the birds totally rejected the oats. These ended up on the ground below the hut in such amounts that I couldn’t even see the ground underneath. They even started sprouting, so in November we had a thick mat of oat shoots underneath the bird feeder.
Then I checked which kinds of birds were supposed to like what kind of seeds, and mixed my own seed mix: peanuts, sunflower and hemp, since we mostly had small birds such as sparrows and tits. Turns out all the birds visiting us adore peanuts, and the sunflower seeds generally get eaten too, but no one touches the hemp. We’re forced to scrape out the hemp seeds now and again, or the hut will just fill up with them.
This season we have seen:
Sparrows, en masse, especially before the snow came. They preferred eating on the ground, and would eat the seeds that other birds had kicked to the ground, or kick down their own. They often travelled in gangs; sometimes there would be up to thirty sparrows underneath the feeder. Now during winter they are far fewer.
I assumed at first that they were common House Sparrows (Passer domesticus, koduvarblane, gråsparv) but closer observation showed that most, or possibly all, were really (Eurasian) Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus, põldvarblane, pilfink).
Tits. We have two kinds, Great Tits (Parus major, rasvatihane, talgoxe) and (Eurasian) Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus, sinitihane, blåmes). For some reason the Blue Tits all look really scruffy, while the Great Tits look well-fed and sleek.
The tits like to scratch away the less interesting seeds, then take a peanut and fly away with it to a tree, where they hold the nut with one foot while eating it. They often hang around the feeder together with the sparrows – neither seems bothered or scared by the other.
- Nuthatches (Sitta europaea, puukoristaja, nötväcka). Beautiful sleek birds with a very distinctive behaviour – they often turn around to face downwards, both on the feeder and in the tree. They seem to like sunflower seeds best. They also often share the feeder with tits.
- Jays (Garrulus glandarius, pasknäär, nötskrika). Even more beautiful than the nuthatches. Cautious birds who often abort their landings at the feeder, fly another scouting round, and then come back to feed. They’re also big, so the feeder wobbles whenever they land, and it’s hard for them to get into a good feeding position. But they manage. I get the impression that they travel in pairs – often when I see one, there’s another one somewhere nearby.
- Magpies (Pica pica, harakas, skata). Brash and confident, often they scare away the other birds. Sloppy eaters: when they first arrived at the feeder, they would scratch around so much that much of the seed ended up on the ground. Eric had to modify the feeder (put up bars along the sides, so instead of one large opening on each side there are two or three small ones) so that the magpies don’t spoil all the food.
- Blackbirds (Turdus merula, koltrast, musträstas). At first they would mostly land in our whitebeam tree and eat the berries, but now they’re also feeding off the seeds on the ground beneath the feeder. I think there might only be a single couple visiting us: I’ve seen a single male and a single female.
- Green Finch (Carduelis chloris, grönfink, rohevint). It’s a rare visitor here; I’ve only seen it a couple of times.