The back garden birder
A house move has seen Clare Howcutt-kelly getting to know her new garden’s feathered friends…
Since we last talked, I’ve moved house and I’m writing to you from my favourite chair in the conservatory that looks out onto the garden. Currently licking my ankles is a small rabbit called Ottie who can best be described as free range. As a result, I have to look before I leap. Having a pet after all these years without one is so much fun and watching how she explores the world is joyful – constantly reminding me to approach this new era with curiosity, sniffing out the surroundings, sussing out what’s where and who has already marked their territory, albeit subtly. First up, the gang of sparrows who hang out in the apple tree. I’ve placed Ottie’s hutch beside the tree and she loves to watch these excitable birds who have their eye on her food bowl. Sparrows love to tuck into insects and the apple tree offers the ultimate all-you-can-eat buffet. I’ve been watching them over the past few weeks to see how they behave and what they enjoy doing. If you had to list their interests on a CV I doubt it would feature life drawing or tap dancing, but they certainly make the act of eating look pretty good fun. While buying paint for the living room the other day, I pushed my trolley in the direction of the wild bird aisle and picked up a few bits to bestow upon my new bird friends, including feeders and foodstuffs. The fat ball feeder is going down a treat and the first visitor of course, was a sparrow and a really scruffy one at that and because William Morris once told me, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”, I also purchased a seed feeder with a slate roof. The sparrows love my stylish choice and enjoy having their picture taken on it. Pigeons are common visitors and one Woodpigeon has built a rather precarious nest at the top of the Hazel tree, which considering the materials available in the garden is a little lacking in imagination, and that’s being kind. I had no idea pigeons had so many clutches either, it can be a whopping five a year of maybe two or three eggs at a time. You probably know all this so stop me if I’m teaching you how to suck eggs but have you ever seen a baby pigeon? Unlikely. They don’t leave the nest until they are almost adult-sized so how on earth that flimsy nest is going to support them is beyond me. Nesting in the roof are Starlings. I was alarmed when I first heard scuffling in the
corner of the main bedroom under the eaves (thinking it was rats) but while I was struggling up the front path with another consignment from a well-known DIY shop, I saw them. Starlings love a loft apartment more than any millennial urbanite could ever do and they Instagram it a lot less. They do like a noisy party, but their nesting period is short and after all, they were living here before me. Next year, I will offer them a lovely new home – probably with a slate roof, close enough to the house, so their kids can still attend the same schools but far enough away to not wake me if they need to get up and go to the loo in the night. These birds with their iridescent plumage are currently on the ‘danger list’ so investing in a stylish new home for them is the least I can do. When we first arrived, I spotted some Chaffinches on the roof but they haven’t returned for a while, so I am currently investigating their favourite foods (any ideas?) in an attempt to attract them once again. By far the most unusual bird visiting the garden however was a baby Guinea Fowl who had escaped being made into a game pie. The area I live in has plenty of farmland, so I asked around to see if anyone kept them – the answer was no. Does this make her wild? I’m not sure but the local cat keeps licking his lips and I haven’t seen her since. As the summer rolls into autumn and the knitwear comes out, I am very much looking forward to sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, a book and maybe the odd bird friend or two. By the time I talk to you next month, who knows who else will show up. A peacock maybe?!
Clare hangs out her fancy, slate-roofed feeder
A few apples on the lawn can be great to attract birds
House Sparrows are the main visitors to the new garden