An oddly mild day in the first week of December. Inside the good wife has arrived home with a “real” ,netted Christmas tree which must mean that Christmas is on the way and preparations are afoot for the arrival of Mr Claus.The Golden Grand Daughter and her entourage are expected to arrive for the festivities, so everything has to be in readyness. At least this year I don’t have to extract those heavy boxes from the attic and build that huge artificial “lifelike”tree, extending every branch and spending hours unravelling every spine of it’s nine foot height.In the olden times of yore I had to place the old ” real” trees in a bucket of sand and wooden blocks and aided by an inticate system of hidden wires and fishing-lines , keep the swaying beggar upright throughout the season. Now times have moved ever onwards and they’ve got a tidy little stand that screws with some ease , into the bottom of the tree in a neatly pre-drilled hole.That simple solution has saved much furore and Christmas hassle throughout the land .Citizens of Norneverland, Ireland threw their assorted hats in the air and cheered loudly…..
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the garden , in the heart of the Winter my five hives of honeybees suddenly think that Spring has sprung a few months early. They are clustering around the entrances of the hives, so it’s probably ,suddenly a little too warm inside. I just hope that they’ve enough food stored because I doubt that there’s much to be foraged anywhere. I just saw an urchin sparrow landing on my wee make-shape wooden bird-table across the garden to check if I’d left anything out for him on this warm Tuesday morning. “Not this morning old man”, I thought. He looked like a wee rambunctious member of the Rolling Stones, his feathers ruffled in the cool breeze. I’d thrown half a pan- loaf across the lawn just yesterday, so maybe he thought there’d be more offerings today.The good wife is clearing out the freezer for the coming onslaught of Christmas gluttony and every available space will be needed to store food and feed the visitors. I don’t much care for pan -bread anyway. It was bought for someone else and I don’t like the squidgy plasticine quality of it at all, which is why it had been frozen in the first place.In any case , my loss was the birds’ gain. I timed the whole thing as I waited for the kettle to reach boiling -point, all the while looking out through the kitchen window; just for my own amusement. It took all of a minute before the first bird turned up to survey the white pieces of bread. I’d crumbled some once- crunchy sweet ,nutty biscuits onto the bird-table too. They’d softened up somewhat , but the birds seemed not to mind at all.I daresay that within two minutes…120 short seconds ….count them…..the entire half-loaf had been fought over by every bird in the area, leaving only biscuit crumbs for a few small tits.
Two whole minutes!
It got me thinking.Just how do they know so quickly where the food is and how they all manage to figure it out at the very same moment in time.I mean …every second obviously counts in a world where the food suddenly appears as if by magic.Birds must also have memories too , if they are able to return to the exact spot and check it out.It makes you wonder what is going on in those tiny dinosaur brains.
You know me …I had to figure it out …..
Here are a few things I discovered.Although most birds have an amazing sense of smell, it’s not really something you think about. They can smell in much the way dogs can use smell to time-travel and sense small discrepencies in the ages of various odours. ; they can recognise the smell of something old but crucially the know exactly when there’s something new and interesting on their patch .More importantly, their eyesight is extraordinary.They are around us all the time even though we are not aware of it .You know that thing that they say about rats ? Y’know, that you are always only about a few feet from a rat, at any time? I’m sure you’ve heard that story.Well , apparently it’s much the same with birds .Think of them as little rats with wings. Even though you can’t see them most of the time they’re always sneaking about, just out of sight.You might only ever see a small percentage of the ones that are actually close and you assume that that’s the lot.Apparently you’ll only ever notice 10 per cent of them at any time. There another 90 per cent that go unnoticed.That means that for the ten or so starlings you might see, there are about another hundred -odd that you miss entirely. They’re sitting in bushes and trees watching everything and waiting for any and every opportunity to eat.They spend nearly all their time thinking and looking for food because they have such a high metabolic rate and need to eat constantly.
They also can detect rhe slightest movement or change in light and shade , so they can see something interesting . For example ,if you should open a door and sling a few torn pieces of bread across the sward,they probably see it happening in slow-motion, so fast can be their response.
There’s a whole pecking order to consider too and birds will have favourite feeding places which they might visit about ten times a day, just to check whether or not nature or yourself have been generous. Blackbirds, robins and crows prefer to pick up their food from the ground or a flat surface and take it away to eat in private safety. It’s also because they are not equipped to eat from a wire-basket feeder. They can’t land on them like some others. Their feet are different or they have to hover to do it and that’s alot of work and energy. The smaller tits will be chased off by bigger ones and these are shoved aside by nuthatches and even bigger birds like noisome pigeons and rooks.The sparrows are the most interesting because they really do seem to act like a gang of punk-rockers with their own little social -schemes where each one seems to know where it fits into the gang structure.They seem to operate like a shoal of fish.
As far as their eyesight is concerned , it’s a little like the obsevations about honeybees. in that they simply see the world in a very different way than we humans do.They have a different range of colour receptors so they see ultra-violet light which makes their colour schemes very different to them than those colours we experience.A robin’s breast appears to them as a huge warning light which tells all who encounter him that he will contest his garden territory with some gusto. I don’t believe the robin is necessarily any more aggressive than other birds protecting their area but they have that unwanted reputation.
That all said, white bread isn’t really much good for birds at all.They’ll fill up on the stuff just as we might eat junk-food, but it hasn’t much nutritional value at all for such an active creature and a diet of it alone would end with malnutrition apparently.
It might be time to buy some peanuts, folks…..