How to be a mindful birdwatcher and make your own birdfeeders

Spending time watching birds can help you to develop a new appreciation of the natural world, says Fforest author Sian Tucker.

Birds flying at sunset

At fforest we leave large areas of land fallow, allowing nature the freedom to go wild, to turn back to scrub. This natural habitat, free from any agriculture, pesticides or sprays, encourages wild flowers and wild meadows, attracts bees and butterflies and also native birds, including buzzards, kites and peregrine falcons who can be seen circling their prey from above, as well as kingfishers and greater spotted woodpeckers.

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It is hard to think of another natural occurrence or wonder that has quite such power to captivate and to stir our emotions as the annual cacophony of songs and calls that is the dawn chorus.

No matter how cold, wet and grey the weather has been, all our winter blues are dispelled by this delightful sound of spring, so loud it rouses us from slumber yet still makes our hearts sing.

One of the earliest birds to start singing is the great tit and it’s easy to distinguish its flinty notes (pee pee peep pee peep) ringing across the woods. By mid-spring the chorus reaches a crescendo, the happy chatter and squabble of sparrows mingling with the blackbird’s ribbon of mellow song and the robin’s bright and clear warbling. You might surprise yourself by how many of these songs you already know.

The sound of honking geese ushers in the autumn, as they fly in formation along the Teifi Gorge, all the way down the river to the sea and back, stretching and exercising their wings ready to fly south to warmer climes. From late autumn to winter, there are morning and evening murmurations of starlings flying to and fro over the reeds and wetlands to roost — a wonderful, compelling, natural phenomenon.

Bird feeder covered in snow
Unsplash/Jacek Dylag

Tips for feeding the birds

Encouraging birds into your garden is relatively easy. Tony, my dad, has always been passionate about feeding them, going out every morning to fill feeders with seeds and scraps of bread. As a result, he always has interesting birds to look at through the kitchen window while doing the washing up.

Fat balls make excellent winter food. Birds need high-energy content to keep them warm. In the summer this need is reduced which is fortunate as fat balls tend to go soft and rancid in the sun.

Make your own bird cake balls by mixing melted suet or lard with seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake. Use one-third fat to two-thirds other ingredients. Stir well, spoon into containers (empty coconut shells or plastic cartons make good feeders) and allow to set. Never use polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils for the fat as they can get smeared onto a bird’s feathers, affecting their waterproofing and insulating qualities.

Dawn and dusk are the most important times of day to put out food, especially during colder months. In the summer, when they are moulting, birds still require high-protein food. There should be an abundance of insects and wild fruits, but a mix of black sunflower seeds, nuts, pinhead oatmeal, grated mild cheese and soaked dried fruits are all good to put out.

In summer keep feeders in the shade and make sure there is always a good fresh source of water.

Wild birds will only eat as much as they need so it isn’t possible to over feed them. Don’t feed the birds junk food or kitchen waste.

If vermin and other pests become a problem, take away all the bird feeders. The birds will soon find other food sources and the pests will move on to forage in different places. After a week or two, you can put the feeders back out again and the birds will quickly return.

Never give birds milk as it can give them an upset stomach, or even cause death. They can, however, digest fermented dairy products, such as cheese. Grated mild cheese can be a good way of attracting robins or wrens. Fresh coconut, straight from the shell, is good, but desiccated coconut can swell up in the stomachs of birds and cause death.

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Looking for more ideas? Check out this tutorial from BBC Countryfile Magazine to help you build a log birdfeeder.

Extract from fforest by Sian Tucker, published by Kyle Books, priced £20. Photography by Finn Beales.

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