When we moved into our home, in late January 2013, there were not a lot of birds to be seen around the place. Since then things have changed dramatically. We now have a thriving population of many different species of wild birds. In part this can be put down to us putting nesting-boxes up, creating two wildlife friendly ponds and growing thousands of flowers and vegetables in a place that up until then was just a field of creeping buttercups. But the biggest contributing factor must be providing food for the birds. We have planted a lot of shrubs and trees with berries, like the native Hawthorn, Rowan, Holly and Elder along with Teasels, Fennel and Sunflowers. We leave the berries and seed-heads in place all winter and they are proving very popular with the birds.
We also wanted the enjoyment of seeing the birds close up so we created some birdtables close to the kitchen window. All that was needed was two old round cheese-boards, some chopsticks and a couple of cheap old cymbals from a drum kit. We tried without the roofs for a while and just stuck the cheese-boards to the top of the branches, but we have some very hungry jackdaws about that came and hacked the food to pieces very quickly so something had to be done. The cymbal roofs also keep the rain away, something that is quite important in the West of Ireland.
Because buying fat and suet balls can be expensive, we wanted to come up with an alternative. Now we make our own economical round feeding blocks that fits nicely on the feeding tables, and last a very long time. If you would like to give them a go all you need is some cheap baking or pastry fat from the supermarket or some lard from your butcher’s shop. Melt it in a saucepan and as soon as it is liquid, remove from the heat and mix in some seeds for wild birds, (we like to buy a big bag as it is cheaper), some oats, breadcrumbs, left over porridge or rice or any other suitable ingredients. We made to much cranberry sauce for Christmas, and our birds were happy to feast on some slightly pink blocks for weeks… Once you have a fairly solid mix, pour it into some old plastic plant pots, lined with plastic bags so the mixture does not escape through the holes. Press down slightly, we like to stand the pots inside each other, and the bottom of one pot flattens the mixture underneath it. Let set for a few hours or overnight, pop on your table and enjoy watching your feathered friends. We have two hanging peanut-feeders as well and most birds like alternating between the feeders and the table.
It might take a while before your population picks up, but be patient and you will be greatly rewarded. It has sometime been suggested that you should not feed your birds all year around, but more recent studies have shown that if you continue to feed your bird, not just in the Winter, they have bigger broods and more chicks survive. It is lovely to look at all the different birds and they will be your organic pest control, eating a lot of unwanted creatures before they get a chance to eat your vegetables.