When I opened last winter, patronage to my garden bird café was a little disappointing, competing as I was with more established venues in town.
But over the wintry weeks, more customers found their way to our small backyard, so when I sat down with my mug of tea for the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch, I did at least have some birds to count! In that relaxing hour when I had permission to simply gaze at birds, I counted two for robin, blackbird, wood pigeon, collared dove, chaffinch, dunnock and long-tailed tit, and one for blue tit.
With the arrival of spring and the breeding season it’s a different story with a welcome boost in visitors to our garden bird cafe. Now we’re seeing starlings, thrushes, greenfinches, goldfinches and the occasional coal tit and great tit too.
We even saw a sparrow hawk but he wasn’t after seeds, mealworms and fruit and our regulars hid in the pine tree until the unwelcome stranger left. Although our visitor list is modest with no celebrity woodpeckers, jays or kingfishers that colour more rural gardens, I’m chuffed with our busy café in a small urban garden.
Birds are so busy in spring, singing and calling, and strutting and dancing to attract mates, as well as defending hard-won territory. I’ve seen blackbirds chase off challengers by flying at them, where pigeons fend off rivals by flapping wings so loudly I worry there will be casualties!
As parents work round the clock to feed begging chicks whose beaks rarely seem to close, spring is a busy time for garden bird café owners. Every morning, I clean food trays specked with droppings and paving slabs blobbed with pigeon poo. I pick up apple skins pecked clean, wash and fill water dishes, and clean the bird bath where pigeons have sat and dusty doves have splashed and preened.
They’re a messy crowd, garden birds!
Being a stickler for fairness, I’ve tried to regulate food portions so everyone can eat. Squadrons of starlings often push in while meeker blackbirds wait their turn. I’ve even opened and closed the back door to scare starlings away but they’re brave blighters. I realise how ridiculous my door swinging is and I admit defeat. Starlings have hungry chicks too.
My daughter laughs at my emotional reaction telling me the fittest survive. That’s nature. Still, I hold back some mealworms for the blackbirds when the starlings have flown away. I used to give the best muffins to our favourite customers when I worked in a people cafe!
Recently, we’ve had a new customer and I’ve been in two minds about barring her. She takes up the whole feeding station, spreading herself out and scaring off our regulars. Hanging upside down, she scoops out sunflower seeds until the feeder is empty. Grey squirrels aren’t only opportunists, they’re gymnasts too!
My garden bird café gives me a wonderful chance to watch wildlife, which is more than I can say for the people café where watching some customers feed wasn’t a pleasure at all!
One more thing I’ve noticed about my bird café. With the spring boost in trade my revenue is going down, but the birds are worth it!
Do you feed birds in your garden? I would love to hear what you enjoy most about your garden visitors – let me know in the comments below!
What to feed birds in spring and summer at your garden bird cafe
Some foods are best not put out in spring and summer, such as whole peanuts that can choke chicks, and although it’s common to feed bread to birds, it isn’t an ideal food at any time of year in terms of nutrition.
Mealworms are a great source of protein for birds and if you don’t fancy handling live mealworms, you can give dried, soaking in warm water overnight to soften them for chicks. Many birds love sunflower hearts and blackbirds also enjoy fruit, especially apples and pears cut in half, or soaked dried fruits. I’ve found dry porridge oats to be popular and I also put out peanuts (unsalted), grinding them into small pieces in a processor so they’re safe for chicks. I make sure peanuts are fresh and from a reputable bird food supplier, and I taste the peanuts to make sure they’re not rancid. If food is past its best for you, then it isn’t good for birds either!
While birds have more available food sources in spring and summer compared to winter, they will appreciate extra food to help raise their young.
What to do if you see a bird unable to fly
If you find a baby bird in your garden that can’t yet fly, as long as it has feathers, you should leave it where it is because the parents will be nearby. Many baby birds fledge before they can fly and spend a few days on the ground while flight feathers grow. You will notice their tail feathers grow in length! The RSPB explains more here, as well as what to do if a baby may have fallen from a nest.
Giving wildlife a home in your garden
The RSPB offers a free guide on giving nature a home in your garden.
Image credit: Me – you can probably tell! Most were taken through glass but you get the idea!
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