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.