Helping hands

Helping birds through the tough times

The apple tree in our garden has proven to be one of the most useful tools in helping us live our bucolic life. In Autumn, hundreds of cooking apples drop from the tree, scattering the lawn with bitter blobs of greens and browns. The apples are collected and distributed. To be honest, we don’t know what to do with them all. Friends and neighbours come round with shopping bags to round up as many as they can carry and we drive over to relatives with boxes full of them. These methods barely even make a dent. We cut them up to cook with them and we’ll stew a lot of them before freezing down the mushy apple mess. We’ll do anything to get them used before they rot but we never have enough time. This year, for the first time ever, we decided to leave a large cardboard box full of them at the bottom of our drive with a sign imploring passers-by to please take them. It worked! The box was practically empty within the day. For a couple of months each year, stewed apple is a staple of our house. It’s found in crumbles, pies and porridge and sometimes it’s just heated up and eaten with a bit of yoghurt. We’ve finally finished stewing the last of the apples last week so we can now stop and breathe. We can stop and enjoy the autumnal feeling that the smell of cooked apples and cinnamon oozing through the house brings.

The tree stands alone in the middle of the garden, visible from the window installed next to the cooker in the kitchen. From it’s branches hang 3 different types of bird feeder: A mixed seed feeder, A fat ball feeder and a niger seed feeder (specifically for goldfinches). A seat facing out of this window would be a treat for any bird lover: Blue, coal and great tits; robins; greenfinches and goldfinches (sometimes); blackbirds; collared doves; pheasants; chickens; crows and jackdaws and even the occasional lesser spotted woodpecker can all be seen feasting on our culinary delights in late Autumn. It’s a microcosm of ornithological Autumn; birds from all walks of life come here to replenish their energy so they can sustain themselves through and live a more comfortable life.

The three raised feeders: Fat balls, Niger seeds, mixed seeds (left to right)

I’ve been patiently waiting for the pheasants to come and eat the food we’ve left out and there’s no sign of them at all. I’ve seen the neighbour’s chickens though. I always see them. In fact, I think that when they’re awake they spend more time in our garden than they do anywhere else. And why wouldn’t they? Every morning we’re putting out bird food and bits of old bread, pasta and rice. The way to a birds heart is through it’s stomach, right?

The pheasants hold a special place in our family heart. The first sighting of them was around 2 years ago, when a weak, scrawny female pheasant was seen walking across the garden towards the ground feeder. Her feathers were tatty, as if she’d been attacked and my mum, having been looking out the window while kneading some bread, took notice. Rather than going outside to see her, she attracted the attention of my dad and brought him in to ogle at this sight. Two sets of wide eyes stared at this feeble creature, hoping that she would make a return in future days for both her health and the interest of two bird-loving homeowners. Return she did, day upon day. She got visibly healthier and the assumption was that she was actually nesting nearby in the tiny wild patch of land my parents keep to the side of the house bearing a rather grand horse-chestnut tree amongst wild flowers, bushes and rhubarb. This particular pheasant had become a recognisable sight in the garden for us, and we’d become a recognisable sight for her. No longer would she keep her distance from us, in fact she’s now known to follow my dad around the garden while he’s doing odd jobs. But back then we were concerned. We hadn’t seen her for a few days and there were quiet murmurings that perhaps she’d been hit by a car or mauled to death by a roaming feline eager to play their murderous games. What the truth was, in fact, was that she was with child. The next day we saw her triumphantly marching across the lawn towards the feeder, three chicks in tow.

It pays to be patient with a garden; things will come together over the years and not straight away. A garden of any shape or size can become a sanctuary for animals with a few little changes. Small steps, like putting in a bird feeder, can have a huge impact on the wildlife around you. The feeding of birds through winter it is a great first step for those wondering how to help their local environment and can be done very simply. You don’t need an apple tree in the garden to hang fat balls from and you don’t even need grass. If you place a feeder on the floor outside with some seeds and bits of bread and rice on top, the birds will find it. Everyone that does this can pat themselves on the back with the knowledge that they have helped wildlife stay warm and healthy through the hardest months.

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Northern Stile

A charming collection of tales of the outside world and the thoughts it inspires by 26 year old nature writer, Fabian Gartland.