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Miranda Hodgson

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Melting snow, aggressive blackbirds and home-made fat balls

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 15 Jan 2010 at 03:02 PM

After weeks of freezing temperatures, the weather is finally starting to thaw and the small birds, who had been absent from the courtyard at home for a worrying length of time, are returning, as shown by the increased number of little foot prints and feather marks in the snow.

Chaffinches, bluetits, great tits and dunnocks are all coming in again and it’s a relief to see them and know for sure that they’re getting plenty to eat and drink. They will probably need a good bit of feeding up to regain the lost energy, so they are good and ready for mating when spring arrives.


Feather marks in the snow

The blackbirds look surprisingly healthy, considering how cold it’s been, but this may be the result of their aggressiveness in winter, when they can become extremely territorial and will sometimes chase away any other birds that come looking for food. I’ve found that putting food down in several different places can help; the aggressive bird should hopefully be too busy with one lot of food to notice that another pile is being eaten. Blackbirds adore apple, so an apple cut in half is a good distraction and can keep them busy for ten minutes or more at a time, allowing other birds to get something to eat.

I was especially pleased to see the robin, who I don’t mind admitting is my favourite, coming down for the chopped pork fat I put under the bench especially for it. The fat will give it energy and help it to keep warm.

I’m also in the process of making my own fat balls from things we have in the larder here at home. There is a good recipe here, which includes some other ingredients like ground peanuts and seeds, but mine are made from beef fat, lard, dried fruit, rice and porridge oats. The beef fat is the result of having boiled up a large quantity of beef bones for stock, but lard works just as well. If you feel ambitious, you can buy some pork fat from the butcher and render it yourself.

Time will tell if there has been a significant drop in the UK bird population this winter. I’m curious to see the result of the Big Garden Bird Watch at the end of January.


sue1002 said:

I wondered what those marks in the snow were when I saw some here, now I know they are feather marks, do they come about when the birds are bathing in the snow?

I'm also wondering what the results of the bird watch will be this year and have a feeling that pigeons might top the list.

on 15 Jan 2010 at 04:33 PM

pushkin said:

What a useful entry, thank you so much.  Have c&p recipe for fat balls.  The photographs are lovely, especially liked the one of the feather markings.

on 15 Jan 2010 at 05:27 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

The feather marks happen when the birds take off, Sue. Yes, we had more pidgeons that any other birds during the cold weather.

Hope the fat balls are a success, pushkin!

on 15 Jan 2010 at 06:45 PM

David Benson said:

Do you post these marvellously informative articles to Facebook too? There's a whole new readership just waiting for you! x

on 16 Jan 2010 at 01:08 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, David! I'll look into doing that. x

on 17 Jan 2010 at 03:43 PM

sue1002 said:

Thanks for the answer on the feather marks Miranda, I've just learned something I didn't know :-)

on 17 Jan 2010 at 08:29 PM

EvaInNL said:

Shouldn't you pre-soak the porridge oats in water Miranda? Just worried about them swelling up in those little bird bellies. I've seen a warning about not using desiccated coconut for that same reason.

Love the pics by the way, the snow we had here froze up so quickly we didn't see any tracks by smaller animals..

on 19 Jan 2010 at 09:11 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Hi Eva, the current RSPB advice is to put them down uncooked - you see this in the mixes that you can buy, which use crushed oats - as they can become quite glutinous and harden on bird's beaks if soaked or cooked. Bread must be soaked, though, as it does swell a lot.

on 19 Jan 2010 at 01:11 PM

EvaInNL said:

Good advice, thanks Miranda!

on 19 Jan 2010 at 02:47 PM

richardpeeej said:

You look after the birds very well Miranda. If I was a bird I would know where to come to get my breakfast!

on 20 Jan 2010 at 06:51 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

You never know, Richard, in the next life...!

on 27 Jan 2010 at 05:29 PM

Eldys said:

So many comments could make to above ones, but first on fat balls does anyone know what they put in 'shop' fat balls to make them so solid? Those we make tend to go soft or melt even at this time of year. Tucking it under roof of bird-table does help a bit.

on 27 Feb 2010 at 09:58 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

From what I know of them, Eldys, fat balls are based on suet, which I suppose must harden more than something like lard or meat drippings. Maybe adding in more suet to the mix will stop them melting? Worth a go! I'd be interested to hear how you get on.

on 27 Feb 2010 at 03:26 PM

Rain said:

I also feed birds in winter. I'm very glad if I hear that people do the same. Unfortunately I know only one real person exept me who feeds birds in winter. If you would like to make a bird feeder this small video will be very useful to you: . As for me, I showed it to my father and he made it very quickly. I'm glad to know that there are such people who understand that animals need some help in winter.

on 16 Dec 2010 at 03:35 PM

Rain said:

strange. the comment has dissapeared. I just wanted to say, that I'm very glad to find out that you feed birds in winter. I know only one person who does it. Do you have a bird feeder? If not watch this small video . It is very easy to make it.And birds enjoy it a lot.

on 16 Dec 2010 at 03:37 PM