Tits prove the bravest feeders

LATE winter slowly transforms into early spring and the activity at the bird table has increased.

Where I live, the food for wild birds is at its annual low point. Seeds and berries have been eaten and, apart from a few buds, nothing has started to grow to replace them. So my trips to the shop for peanuts, bird seed and fat balls have become more frequent, while wild birds queue up at the feeders and fights break out as they squabble for access.

The troupe of long-tailed tits, that used the feeders for several weeks in the winter, has gone. But one pair remains. They always visit the feeders together and usually in the afternoons. Although they’re among the smallest of the species that use the feeding station (if you don’t count their ridiculous tails) they’re among the bravest, standing their ground even when they’re buzzed by a greenfinch or a pack of house sparrows. They’re favourite feeder is the one that contains fat balls studded with small seeds, though they occasionally visit the peanut feeder.

There are some birds that never use the feeders, but forage on the grass beneath them for bits that have been dropped. They include a pair of collared doves, a pair of blackbirds and a shy dunnock. Up until recently several chaffinches joined them. But suddenly, after several years of foraging on the ground, the chaffinches have started to use the peanut feeder and an open tray of mixed bird seed.

The robins are rather a surprise. They can use the feeders, even the ones that require a lot of agility, but despite their reputation for being very pugnacious birds, they are easily frightened off by great tits, or even diminutive but feisty coal tits. Of the four species of tit using the feeding station, the blue tits are undoubtedly the most timid.

The siskins (right) were missing for most of the winter. These pretty little finches have been increasing in numbers in Ireland for the past century, with a big surge in the 1970s, probably due to an increase in mature forestry plantations. But they are also great winter travellers, foraging across Europe, so their arrival is unpredictable.

About a fortnight ago I spotted a rather dowdy female on the peanut feeder and, the next day, she was joined by a magnificent male — yellow and olive green with a jet black skull cap. They’re still here and, rather surprisingly, they’re concentrating on the peanuts rather than joining the goldfinches at the seed feeder.


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