Find out who's been eating your bird food

Who's Been Eating my Bird Food... or Your's?

I have to admit there have been occasions when we have run out of Muesli that I have seriously considered plundering my stash of Haith’s wholesome seed mixes and trying it for breakfast.

To coin a cliché: it looks good enough to eat, and not just by birds! Come to think of it, that applies to just about everything I put out in the garden every morning. Peanuts, no problem. Sprinkle a little salt on them if you prefer. Sunflower Hearts, classic health food, my wife scatters them on her salads. Fat balls: ok I wouldn’t nibble or lick one, but I bet you could cook with it! It looks just like what my granny used to spread on a bread and dripping sandwich! Niger seeds don’t tempt me - they must get stuck in your teeth and I absolutely draw the line at live mealworms. The reason I have turned down “I’m a celebrity Get Me out of Here”’ is that creepy crawlies are wildlife, not food.

The truth is, of course, that -whilst I have not in fact personally tasted any of the Haith’s range- several creatures apart from birds regularly do. It doesn’t just happen in my garden, and understandably many of you resent it. I know, because you have told me! Before I discuss ways of repelling raiding rodents - I’m really buying time whilst I think about it- a word about birds that eat what is not intended for them. For example, my mealworms are meant for tits, robins and blackbirds, but in fact, a lot of them get snaffled by Magpies and Jays. I am not blaming them. After all, if you watch the activity around your feeders for a while you will soon recognise what is referred to as a “pecking order’. It is an expression applied to animals and people as well and tends to mean that the pushiest and probably largest species are first in the queue. Followed by the rest in descending order, down to the smallest and shyest. Watch the next time you get tits on your feeder. Great Tit first, then Blue Tits and finally Coal Tits, who nip in and out in the blink of an eye so brief it hardly seems long enough to have grabbed a decent beak full.

I do not resent the Jays and Magpies. They may seem to be bullied by nature but, let’s face it, they probably need more sustenance than the little birds and they use all their ingenuity to get at it. I have put up two of those feeders which feature –to quote the brochure- “ an adjustable dome to exclude larger birds. “They work very well, despite the fact that the Jays and Magpies obviously regard them as a challenge. It took several days for me to adjust the dome to leave a gap a Magpie couldn’t get through. It was about an inch! I could only just get my fingers in to deliver the food. Meanwhile, the Magpie, closely observed by the Jay, taught itself to dangle like a tit. It frequently fluttered frantically and often fell off –which I enjoyed hugely- but it now invariably manages to grab a beakful of mealworms before it retires in embarrassment and lets the Jay have a go.

However, I have a feeling that it is not belligerent birds you are most concerned about. It is those pesky rodents. Well, the most effective deterrent is tidiness and cleanliness. I hasten to add this not because rats and mice are addicted to the mess and like it dirty, but they are attracted by spillage. Whenever I have seen rats in my garden it is because they are gobbling up the seeds and husks below a feeder or the main bird table. As it happens ,a regular sweep up whilst being no good for the rats is very good for the birds. Think of the feeding area as a café, and imagine the health and hygiene inspector makes regular visits. Mind you, if you see a mouse, don’t make a fuss. It’s probably a Wood Mouse, all big ears and whiskers. They are welcome in my garden anytime.

Finally, the one you really resent. The one –or the several – that not only digs up your newly planted bulbs but is also costing you a fortune because it and its mates are gobbling up the prime bird food quicker than you can buy it: yes, the Grey Squirrel. I assume grey, because if you have got Red Squirrels in your garden you are lucky, and the birds had better hop aside and let him lead the pecking - or nibbling - order. I hear it almost every day; “Mr Oddie the squirrels are eating all the bird food”. I have a couple of glib responses. Such as: “Well, they are probably hungry”, and “they don’t know it's not Squirrel food.” But the question still comes: “How can I stop them?” I am tempted to reply: “Have a look in a Haith’s brochure and you will see pages and pages of cages and contraptions that are labelled “Squirrel-proof”. Many designers and inventors have worked for many hours to develop and perfect them. If those fine minds haven’t solved the problem, why on earth would you think I might have!

Believe me, if I had produced an absolutely 100% squirrel proof feeder I would have patented it long ago, and wouldn’t have had to scrimp a living at the BBC for all those years.

“So you can’t beat em? So what do you do?” Join ‘em! Or at least enjoy them. Don’t just treat them as unwelcome pests. By all means, control them by buying at least one good quality Squirrel-proof feeder, ‘cos they do work pretty well although - like most things- you have to pay for quality. Get a cheap one, and it will be chewed to bits within a week. And here’s a thought –why not set up a feeder especially for the squirrels. A small wooden box with a hinged lid will do nicely. It won't attract even more squirrels but it will distract them from the birds. Come on, learn to love them. By the way, I have heard rumours of a squirrel cull. I won't be supporting it.

Written by Bill Oddie

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