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