Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where Have All the Birdies Gone?

I am puzzled by a garden mystery. Every time we leave to go on holiday, all the birds who frequent my little feeding station have to fend for themselves once the feeders are empty and the strings with empty green plastic nets are fluttering in the wind.

Depending on how long we have been away, it takes a little while before they are back in numbers. After a 17-day Easter break I expected the return of my feathered friends to begin in earnest after three or four days. But still three weeks after our return there are not that many birds around the food despite the abundance and variety on offer. The spotted woodpeckers come frequently to feast on the fatty balls with seeds in them, the nuthatches swoop down on the nut containers like greased lightning and the blackbirds, who are building a nest in the nearest cherry laurel, are almost residential.

Female blackbird soaking building material (The female blackbird soaking her building material.)

The greenfinches, normally the dominant species, turn up every now and then, but only in small numbers. I have seen great tits and blue tits on the odd occasion. There are normally dozens of birds. Where have they all gone?

I have been through several theories about their unexpected absence:

- Is there something wrong with the food? Hardly, because visiting birds seem to like it.

- Has there been a bird epidemic of some sort? Maybe they have perished for medical reasons? I have no way of finding out.

- Have the many predatory domestic cats caught them? Neighbours’ cats are constantly on the prowl, hiding in the shrubbery to jump on the gullible little birds, but I have not seen any evidence of any mass slaughter like a couple of years ago when I found fifteen carcasses under and around the nearest shrub. Then again, they might of course have run off with them.

- Then there are the squirrels, who normally feed side by side with the birds, but they do squirt a lot to mark their territory (I believe). Does that contain a bird-repelling chemical? They have always squirted, so why now? I don’t think I can blame the squirrels.

- Are they all busy reproducing, nesting or feeding young ones with proper baby food like maggots, worms and juicy, flying insects? Possibly, but surely at least one of the parents would occasionally be free to come to the open bar for a well-deserved, healthy snack?

- So, I have only one theory left; they do not like me anymore. They are finally protesting against the inconsistent supply of that extra nutrition they have come to demand. Please come back, I even promise to top up the water at least twice a day!

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