Why nothing’s wasted at the bird feeders

In the Countryside: Pam Taylor watches a spot of competition at her bird feeders

The feeders in my garden are proving popular at the moment. I have three feeders together near the edge of a patch of lawn. One contains peanuts, the second has fat balls in it and the third contains a home-made mixture of wheat, millet, dried mealworms and sunflower seeds.

All five locally-common species of tit visit these feeders and it’s fascinating to watch their separate behaviours. The great tits being large and bold are the bullies. When they arrive all the other tit species, with the occasional exception of blue tits, make way for them. Up to three great tits may visit the feeders at any one time, favouring the sunflower seeds and scattering the other contents of that feeder into the tray below.

Next bravest are the blue tits. They gather in a nearby lilac bush just a short flight away, then carefully choose their time to flit across to feed. They too take sunflower seeds, but can equally be seen on the fat balls or peanuts.

Long-tailed tits also gather in the lilac or in a neighbouring fir tree, before venturing to the feeders. They appear very timid and nervous. Often just one bird will fly to the top of the feeders and look around. If it’s not disturbed, others will follow. These tiny birds feed almost exclusively on the fat balls and up to a dozen or so may cluster there at times. It’s quite comical to see them peck each other to create more space. They have such minute beaks they can’t possibly do each other much harm.

Coal tits and marsh tits complete my list and rarely do I see more than one individual of each at a time. These species both tend to hide in the foliage before dashing across to grab a sunflower seed when the feeders are clear of other birds. Both return quickly to deep cover in the lilac bush or fir tree to consume their prize.

The seed scattered by this selection of birds isn’t wasted. Reed buntings, robins, chaffinches and even dunnocks have learnt how to balance on the tray that’s strung beneath the feeders to collect the scraps. Blackbirds, pigeons and magpies clear the ground beneath.