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Miranda Hodgson

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Birds looking for food and water during the dry spell

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 28 May 2011 at 11:36 AM

The long dry spell has broken in Oxfordshire. From the 30th of March to the 25th of May, I didn’t have to put my waterproofs on once, but we have finally had a couple of days of proper rain. During that time of dryness, many birds have come to gardens to make use of the fresh water put down for drinking and bathing and it seems that some of them have become more accustomed to humans. A young blackbird was pecking in the grass very close to me the other day and didn’t seem at all bothered by me scuffling about in the flower bed and just carried on with what it was doing. Of course, as soon as I went to take a picture, it turned its back on me. That happens a lot – a bird will be in the perfect pose, until I take the picture, when it will turn around and all I get is a picture of its back. That, or it will do something to make the picture blurred.



This bird obliged by staying close and I managed to get a couple more pictures. Its back looks slightly humped, though I don’t know why that would be. I’ve seen the same in a couple of robins over the years and it didn’t seem to affect their ability to fly or get about.





Just because we’ve had some rain doesn’t mean a stop to putting out water. The wind is warm and strong enough that the ground will soon dry out again without continued rain and the dryness of the soil beneath the surface means that the worms have gone deep into the earth and are out of reach of the birds. The few worms that are nearer the surface seem to be hibernating, rather than actively turning the soil, so there is little available to the birds in that form of food.

A friend told me that she had taken advice from a vet and, as well as providing seeds for wild birds, had started putting out dishes of soaked ‘dry’ dog food, alongside tinned dog food. It isn’t ideal – natural wild food is always best - but it contains fat, protein and cereal and is a useful supplement when natural food is short. The birds in her garden look pretty healthy and they eat it all the time, so I’m trying it here, putting out small amounts in a sheltered place between plant pots, so that the crows and cats don’t see it as easily. After initially being suspicious, the birds have decided to try it and the dog food is being eaten up quite quickly. I’ve even seen them feeding it to their chicks. Hopefully this will be a help until we’ve had a lot more rain and the birds’ natural food is abundant again.


More on blackbirds

The RSPB's advice on what and when to feed birds


pushkin said:

Very interesting about the dog food.  I wonder if quail would like it, there's a pair who come around every few days.  I'm a little nervous of attracting rats, though.

on 28 May 2011 at 01:31 PM

sue1002 said:

Our dog Sasha is a messy eater and spits the bits out of her bowl that she isn't too keen on and I usually end up shaking the blanket, her bowl sits on, out for the birds.  If she doesn't eat it first, the house sparrows, starlings and pigeons very soon eat it up so it doesn't stay around long enough to attract vermin.

on 28 May 2011 at 02:37 PM

EvaInNL said:

Good article Miranda and still very timely I think, we've had some rain but not enough to make a difference to the birds and their offspring just yet.

My granddad used to put all the old food scraps (apart from meat) out for the birds and used the washing up water to water the plants. My friend's downstairs neighbours - same generation - still do this too. And my grand dad's garden and theirs is very healthy by the look of things. The soapy water - so I've been told - actually helps prevent the crusting of the top soil. I've sprayed a bit on the soil of potted plants that wasn't taking up moisture and it always helps. Haven't enough dishwater for the entire allotment though.. ;o)

on 28 May 2011 at 03:27 PM

Birds looking for food and water during the dry spell | Gardening News said:

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on 28 May 2011 at 04:37 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Yes, I reckon Sue's right, it would be gone too fast to attract vermin, pushkin. I think quail are seed and grain eaters, though, so maybe you could grow some for them - could be interesting.

Eva, I didn't know that about soapy water preventing soil crusting. Thanks, I'm going to try that!

on 28 May 2011 at 04:41 PM

EvaInNL said:

Google 'hydrophobic soil' Miranda, there are some articles that explain the sciency bit, I tend to get head aches when scientific diagrams and  words like surface tension are bandied about too much... :o)

on 29 May 2011 at 11:38 AM

richardpeeej said:

Another very interesting article Miranda. I water my flowers in the tubs and window boxes with washing up water too if it isn't greasy. I will be using the soapy water in a sprayer too on the bean plants at the first signs of blackfly. I spray the roses with it too to discourage greenfly. :-)

on 29 May 2011 at 03:24 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Hmm, reading an article in an old gardening magazine and it says that water from dish washer should not be used, as it contains high levels of bleach and boron. It also says to take care with washing up water, as the detergents contain sodium and phosphorus (too much sodium is bad for plants and the phosphorus causes algal blooms if it gets into rivers and ponds) and recommends mixing it with rain water or using an eco-friendly soap (like Ecover). Worth thinking about!

on 30 May 2011 at 11:37 AM