Feed me, Seymour!

Starling feeding

The title of this post is inspired by my boyfriend’s recent purchase of the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack. He bloody loves that film, bless him. The subject of the post has a more Springwatch-y feel, with the balcony recently playing host to lots of young birds, noisy and hungry, begging for food from their parents.

We’ve had a family of blackbirds, lots of families of starlings (see picture above) and greenfinches and a few juvenile goldfinches too. I genuinely never get bored of watching the parent birds feeding their young, even when they make a right old racket outside the window.

I was watching a young blackbird the other day, copying the movements and posturing of the adult male and echoing his calls. I might be anthropomorphizing (shhh – don’t tell Chris Packham), but it was almost as though the adult was teaching the youngster how to be a blackbird. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to watch their behaviour in such close proximity and, as usual, I’ve taken about a bazillion photos of them:

Male blackbird feeding a youngster.

Male blackbird feeding a youngster.

A greenfinch feeding its chick - this photo is a bit rubbish as the sun was shining through the window...

A greenfinch feeding its chick – this photo is a bit rubbish as the sun was shining through the window…

(Left): A very cute greenfinch chick (Right): A young blackbird

(Left): A very cute greenfinch chick (Right): A young blackbird

A pair of young blackbirds - the light's not very good but I just liked the way they're posed!

A pair of young blackbirds – the light’s not very good on this one but I just liked the way they’re posed!

Blue tit fury

I realised yesterday that I didn’t post anything at all in April, which made me feel very neglectful and tardy. While I get on with writing some more food related content, I thought I’d post this in celebration of spring, which has finally sprung in time for the May Bank Holidays. I think a spot of beer gardening may be in order if the weather stays nice.

Spring’s arrival has been marked by a noticeable increase in avian activity everywhere, including the balcony garden. Nesting material is being gathered, the feeders are emptying faster than ever, and territories are being defended. The blue tit in the video below has been visiting several times a day for the last couple of weeks, tapping at the windows. A quick bit of Googling suggested that this behaviour is quite common at this time of year, with male blue tits attacking their reflections in windows and car mirrors, thinking it’s another male trying to move in on their nesting site.

Crazy little bird.

(Oh, and while I’m here – Happy Star Wars Day! May the fourth be with you. Always.)

Mugged off by a pigeon (or how I learned to stop worrying and tolerate the pigeons)

Pigeon

For the last few months, I’ve been embroiled in an ongoing battle of wits with the local pigeon population. Along with the other small birds on my balcony, I’d been enjoying a nice pigeon-free existence until the local pigeons discovered that there was food to be had there. They started visiting in ever increasing numbers, and with ever increasing confidence. And who can blame them, really? After all, they’re wild animals in need of food and are therefore unlikely to turn down an easy meal.

So what’s the problem, then? The problem is: they are a massive pain in the balls. They hoover up all the food before the smaller birds can get a look in, they shit everywhere, and they dig through the soil, chucking it about and making an absolute bloody mess.

It’s a shame, as I used to be visited several times a day by chaffinches- who tend to prefer feeding from a flat surface to a feeder. However, since the bird table stopped having any food left on it, they seem to have lost interest and I’ve not seen one for ages.

My pigeon-proofing efforts have included raising the height of the bird feeders so the pigeons couldn’t reach them, installing pigeon spikes, and enlisting my dad’s help in making a rather nifty little cage to go over the bird table:

Bird table cage

Me (and all the other small birds) one, pigeons nil.

The cage seemed to work for a while, until this happened:

One all.

One all.

“This isn’t over!” I exclaimed, shaking my fists out of the window at the feathered bastards. They didn’t care, of course, because they’re pigeons and they have no understanding of human language or hand gestures.

Another of my ideas was to put garden canes in the pots to stop the pigeons from getting into them and digging up the soil (and some newly-planted bulbs). Again, this works up to a point but they still seem to wedge themselves in among the sticks to get to the food.

A better alternative to the sticks seems to be to cover the pots in chicken wire, a tactic I have deployed on my pots containing bulbs. I’ve also used upturned hanging baskets with some success.

My increasingly obsessive desperation to outwit the pigeons is demonstrated quite well in this photo, I think:

Maximun security bird table

Unsurprisingly, they still don’t seem that bothered:

Pigeon

Short of putting up netting around the entire balcony (which I’m not going to do for fear of smaller birds getting caught in it), I don’t think I’m likely to ever deter them completely. I think I need to just get over it and learn to admire them for their perseverance. I am essentially the Wile E. Coyote to their Road Runner, employing ever more elaborate Acme brand products in a futile attempt to overcome them. And anyway, perhaps it’s wrong to discriminate against them, just because they’re not as popular as the other avian visitors. They are quite beautiful when you think about it, with their iridescent neck feathers. I certainly wouldn’t do them any harm – I have, in fact, been known to free them from buckets and from my watering can when they’ve got stuck inside them (although I admit it was with a smug “who’s the smart one now, eh?” feeling as I did it).

My acceptance for the pigeons was cemented further recently when Winterwatch featured a piece about The Feral Pigeon Project, which aims to find out more about the ecology of feral pigeons. It taught me a bit more about the different colourings of these birds and prompted me to observe them in a different way.

And so, that’s the story of one person’s begrudging resignation to the way of the pigeon. I’m such an old softie.

Holy red-breasted avian visitor, Batman!

I’ve been extremely lax when it comes to blog posts lately, and I’m determined to be more reliable in the New Year. However, as I’m currently wrapped up in the excitement/ manic preparation of Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate and festive to post this picture of a robin that has recently begun frequenting the balcony garden. I was pleased with how this photograph came out, considering it was taken through a window and that he (or she – could be a ‘Robyn’ rather than a ‘Robin’) usually tends to fly off before I’ve grabbed the camera:

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Kent Wildlife Trust ‘Wild about Gardens’ award scheme

I began turning our bare concrete balcony into a garden in spring 2010. We’d moved in the previous November and I saw the potential to create a garden which, although only measuring one metre by three, could be an enjoyable space and attract wildlife.

I brought in various different containers, hauling them up the stairwell and through my flat to the balcony, and gradually covered the concrete with greenery. At some point around this time, a colleague mentioned to me that the Kent Wildlife Trust were advertising a gardening award scheme, and half-jokingly suggested that I should enter it. So I did.

Fast forward to this week, and I’ve just managed to win a gold award from the ‘Wild about Gardens’ scheme for the third year running. I should mention here that they give out lots of awards in each of the gold, silver and bronze categories, but I’m still chuffed to bits to have achieved the hat trick. In 2010, I also won the first prize in the ‘Best balcony, container or small garden’ category and was presented with a big metal plaque along with my certificate and smaller plaque given for the gold award.

The idea of the scheme is to encourage people to adapt their gardens to attract as much wildlife as possible, as well as conserving water and generally being environmentally friendly. Volunteers come out to look round the gardens which have been entered, and give advice as well as judging the competition. They look at the plants that have been grown to attract wildlife, provisions for birds (such as feeders and baths), what habitats have been created (such as ponds, log piles and bird and bat boxes), how wisely water is used and how compost waste is used. Obviously I can’t really install, say, a pond on my tiny balcony, so they take into account the resources available and how well gardeners have maximised the potential. They also look at how entrants have documented the wildlife visiting their garden.

I know my awards aren’t exactly up there with winning first prize at the Chelsea Flower Show, but it’s still worth remembering the importance of keeping green corridors open to wildlife. Even if all you have is a window box or a tiny balcony like mine, with a bit of imagination you can still make a difference.

So, in celebration of my achievement, I thought I’d post some of my favourite photographs from my balcony garden this year:

Snake’s head fritillary- one of my favourite flowers.

Unidentified caterpillar

Borage

Coriander flowers

Dill flowers

The return of the pole dancing squirrel

This morning was the second time I’ve seen a squirrel on the balcony this year. I found him (her? it?) snaffling the food from the bird feeders, brazen as you like. Even a withering look from a nearby pigeon didn’t put him off. I’d be angry, but look at his little face…

This picture reminds me of how I feel when I go running- leaning on a lamp post, out of breath.

The aforementioned squirrel/ pigeon stand off. The picture was taken through a (dirty) window so is a bit rubbish.

Squirrel fact of the day:

Squirrels do actually make noises. I only found this out about a week ago when I was woken early in the morning by a weird sound coming from outside the bedroom window. My bird watching instincts/ nosey neighbour tendencies compelled me to look to see what the racket was. It turned out it was a squirrel in the tree outside, making a bizarre noise which can only be described as a kind of ‘squawk’. And here endeth today’s squirrel tutorial.

Goldfinches and other second broods

Our balcony garden has been visited by goldfinches on and off since the spring, but recently their numbers seem to have increased along with the frequency of their visits. Almost every time I glance out of the window, there seems to be at least one out there on the feeders. Sometimes we get about ten of them at once (which doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, but it’s a lot of birds for my tiny balcony!)

I think many birds have recently had a second brood of chicks, as I’ve suddenly started seeing juvenile goldfinches and greenfinches again and my dad has a dunnock nest in his garden containing at least one chick. It’s nice to see one last surge of new life- it’ll be autumn before we know it!

Adult and juvenile goldfinch.

Dunnock nest.