John bought me a zazzy pair of binoculars for my birthday this year and we decided to road-test them on Sunday with a trip to a nature reserve. It became obvious very quickly that the strap was too long for a wearer whose neck is so close to the ground. But the helpful staff performed a bit of nifty strap-work (despite curious glances from on-lookers) and soon I was kitted out and ready for action. With a meow of appreciation, I trotted off down the muddy path that twisted its way through the tall trees and thick bramble to the wonders nature had in store for us that day.
Normally, John and I both have cameras and work as a team to get the best shots we can, but today I was ‘off-duty’ and determined to relax and enjoy the surroundings. I could hear the birds singing, but they were incredibly difficult to spot, possibly because they were a little nervous about being watched by an adventurous sleek black (ever so slightly portly) cat like me! But with my extraordinary patience and enquiring mind, I was able to spy a few good-looking birds, including Canadian geese, mallard ducks, goldfinches, greenfinches and the one I was most excited about, the great spotted woodpecker. Ok I’ll be honest, John was much better at spotting the birds than me, by the time I got my fab new binoculars lined up to the right place, the cheeky little minxes had flown off.
While we were sitting in the hide-out watching the wading birds dipping their heads beneath the surface of the streams and marshes, the swans and black-headed gulls flew overhead and we caught sight of a small group of deer resting beneath a large leafy oak tree, probably planning their next meal or deciding on a safe place to sleep that night. As we walked back through the woodland, panting somewhat because it was uphill, we noticed a field of cows that all had horns and I had to laugh when one of them used her horns to have a good scratch.
On the way home, we stopped at a friend’s house for refreshments and I bumped into my old mate Muffin sunning herself in the back garden. I entertained her with tales of my adventures through the forest and the fascinating species of wildlife I had witnessed with my magnificent binoculars and she was very impressed.
As a well-loved pussy-cat, I’m lucky enough to have regular meals and a selection of warm cozy places to sleep. I have also put many hours of practice into refining my techniques for charming John into giving me extra treats (no doubt he would describe it as harassment)! But for the garden birds, finding food is hard work, so an extra meal from your kitchen or some commercially available bird food will help them keep going, especially during the winter months.
October is a good time to start putting food out for the birds. Feed them until the end of April when they should be able to find plenty of food for themselves. Although in long dry summers, the chaffinches will be searching for seeds that may be scarce, plus the hard ground might make it difficult for the blackbirds and thrushes to catch worms. Treats you can put out include natural peanuts in their shells, wild bird seed, suet or fat balls (always remove and cut up any netting which can trap and kill wildlife), cooked rice, potato or pasta and bruised fruit such as apples or pears.
Now you might be wondering why a carnivorous member of the felidae species would know so much about birds. Well I’ll tell you. John and I like to photograph them and have spent many a happy moment watching them through the windows. Feeding the birds has brought me closer to them and I marvel at their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. I’ve watched them flirting with each other at the bird table and squabbling at the feeders, I ‘ve watched them play together in the snow and huddle up on a branch to keep warm.
According to the RSPB, over half of adults in the UK feed the birds in the garden, so that’s a lot of extra help for the birds! But its important to feed them responsibly and safely. There’s lots of advice about bird tables, hygiene, feeding and what birds to expect on the RSPB website. Don’t forget to avoid foods that may be toxic to the birds or other wildlife as well as domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
Talking about cats, many of my feline cousins are hunters who might be tempted to lurk in a garden that attracts the birds so try to reduce the risk of cats catching them. Any food on the ground should be at a distance from shrubs and thick grass where a cat could lie in wait ready to pounce. Place feeders up high and away from surfaces from which a cat could jump and use spiny plants like holly around the base of a feeding stations to stop them loitering there.