The Spring 2018 issue of Nature’s Home, the RSPB members’ magazine, arrived in the post a couple of days ago with the form for the RSBB Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place over the last weekend in January. I take part in this every year, although for the last two years I have had nothing to report as my front garden received a grand total of no avian visitors during the one hour I had designated for the survey (despite the various options that were available on the feeder), and back in 2015 two Ring-necked Parakeets who scared everyone else away. But one hour on a January weekend doesn’t tell the full story.
The bird-feeder in the front garden, situated so that it can be seen from the armchair in the corner of the lounge, actually gets a nice range of visitors. Over the past year, I have seen four kinds of tit (Blue, Coal, Great, Long-tailed) and two types of pigeon (Feral, Wood) on it, as well as Chaffinches, Robins, the odd Carrion Crow and the very occasional Greater-spotted Woodpecker. Ground-feeders have included Blackbirds and Dunnocks (and more pigeons), while I’ve seen Starlings and a Redwing perched in the tree.
Less welcome have been the squirrels, and I have tried various tricks to deter them. I thought that I had hit on a winning squirrel-deterring method by greasing the pole with some WD-40, and the resulting attempt by a squirrel to climb up the pole was admittedly hilarious. But then, of course, after several attempts enough of said lubricating oil had been wiped off to ensure a successful ascent, so an upturned plastic flower-pot with a hole in the bottom was deployed instead. I’m pleased to report that no squirrels have been seen on the feeder since.
Oh, and the parakeets visit too. Interesting birds, Ring-necked Parakeets. They’re not a native species to Britain, of course – but they have been a visible (and vocal) presence in the London area for a few decades now and are very well-established. Their exotic brightness has led to a couple of rather fanciful urban myths about how they got here; that the first pair in London were released at some point in the late Sixties by either Jimi Hendrix or Mick Jagger, or that the first ones escaped from Shepperton Studios during the filming of The African Queen back in 1951. There are a few question-marks over the extent to which they have affected native species (are they taking nest-sites from Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers, whose numbers are in decline?), although any queries about how a species from India manages to survive the winters here should be directed to the fact that their range includes the Himalayas; these birds may look tropical, but they can do cold. And, as they have shown, they are highly adaptable.