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Under the autumn leaves

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 14 Nov 2009 at 11:16 AM

Strong winds this weekend will probably bring down the last of the leaves from the big lime trees at the back of the courtyard and distribute them in a thick layer over the plants. They will need to be carefully pulled out so the plants aren’t smothered.


I’ve been watching the birds and have seen that the layer of leaves which has fallen so far this autumn attracts blackbirds. Three or four of them will be out there at once, all performing the same little dance; a short jump, a dip of the head and the bird will plunge its beak under the leaves and toss them to one side. It will then stand and stare at them intently before quickly picking something up and eating it. I must have seen blackbirds doing this hundreds of times and have often wondered what tasty morsels they were actually finding, but I’ve never actually gone to a pile of leaves they frequent to discover.

No good, I had to see. It was raining and all sensible birds were staying under cover, so there were no startled shrieks when I stepped outside into the wet and gloomy November day to kneel down on the wet ground, promptly soaking my trousers.

Turning the leaves over, the first thing I noticed were two woodlice scurrying for cover. More searching revealed that woodlice can run very fast when they want to and not one stayed still to have its picture taken. Another rummage turned up what I was looking for – a surprising number of millipedes, several slugs, a few spiders and a variety of small flies - enough there to make it worth the effort of a blackbird searching.




The driest leaves were a more favoured hiding place than wet ones, which tells me why birds spend so much time poking about under hedges and offers a solution to concerns about untidiness in the garden. Piling the leaves up under the hedge will help to keep them dry, encourage the insects to shelter there and, in turn, the birds will still be able to find food. Result.

When I went back indoors I found a slug stuck to my trousers.


pushkin said:

Excellent article.  I shall treat my (few) leaves as a larder for the birds and leave them in peace.

on 14 Nov 2009 at 12:50 PM

johnhodgson said:

Dilemma:   Plenty of leaves, also a cat who likes hunting, especially under the hedge.   Should I let the leaves stay on the lawn, where the birds can at least see the cat coming; put them under the hedge to dry (popular with the cat); put them on the compost heap. as at present;  or get rid of the cat?

on 14 Nov 2009 at 03:06 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Good stuff, pushkin!

Good dilemma! If you let the leaves stay on the lawn, it will go yellow and then you'll be cross. I also think that the birds would prefer the shelter of the hedge, rather the open space of the lawn, even if the cat is there, because a cat has less room to manoeuvre under a hedge than on open grass. Not only that, there are sparrow hawks to think about. Or you could get a dog to chase the cat and balance things out a bit.

on 14 Nov 2009 at 03:31 PM

johnhodgson said:

Too old for a dog.   I expect we shall carry on as before.

on 14 Nov 2009 at 04:03 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Probably for the best. If you got rid of the cat, another one would probably turn up and take his place under the hedge.

on 14 Nov 2009 at 05:33 PM

sue1002 said:

We get lots of beetles hiding under leaves here and quite a few of them are the violet ground beetle which eat the many slugs which are found under the leaves too.

on 15 Nov 2009 at 11:42 AM

EvaInNL said:

Another lovely article Miranda! My dad will be happy to know that he's not being lazy but helping his favourite birds! He tips the leaves over the fence in the undergrowth onto the patch of municipal land that's there. And it's not just the blackbirds that hunt there, we've seen quite a lot of the smaller birds jumping through the leaves as well. And the hedge hogs love it too!

on 15 Nov 2009 at 12:12 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I do like those violet ground beetles, Sue, they are such a glorious colour, aren't they.

Bet your dad will be relieved, Eva!

on 16 Nov 2009 at 05:04 PM

sue1002 said:

I like the way that you see the different shades when you look at the different angles of the violet ground beetles.  My son was so impressed after seeing the colours on one that we found that he took it into school to show everybody.

on 16 Nov 2009 at 06:02 PM