I have several problems with the feed balls that I put out for the small birds in the covered terrace. They do attract all sorts of passerine birds – blue tits, great tits, nuthatches and a robin – as well as blackbirds and the occasional woodpecker. (Woodpeckers, by the way, look rather silly when hanging upside down from a feed ball suspended from the ceiling…)
However, it seems I am also feeding the local pheasant, a few crows, jays, magpies and even a field vole.
Now, I ask you, does the picture above look like a blue tit? A robin? Any other bird you’d feed with store-bought feed balls? Indeed not… (The picture, by the way, is from Wikimedia Commons, as my phone struggled to get a decent shot of the pheasant through the windows, in spite of it being only three meters away from where I was sitting in the sofa…)
And, well, if my phone struggled to get a picture of a pheasant on the terrace, you can imagine why the next picture is also from Wikimedia Commons:
For some time now a small field vole has taken to foraging for food on the terrace, hiding under the low wooden perimeter walls whenever anything moved, but today the little critter decided that rather than constantly running out, nibbling on a feed ball and then running back to the shelter of the wall, he’d drag the feed ball with him to the wall so he could sit under the wooden wall and nibble at the feed ball just in front of him. Clever, I grant him that, but of course hardly why I bought the feed balls.
Still, I guess my complaints are all just for show. In fact I’m thrilled whenever I see my little vole, and I love the fact that the pheasant cock has been on the terrace four times today, at one point lingering there for a whole hour, mere meters away from me. I even find it amusing when the crows come into the terrace, because let’s face it; crows really aren’t good at navigating in small spaces so they keep knocking into garden furniture and woodpiles et cetera.
It really is the best reality show to be found. I love how everybody has their own personality; the blackbird is the bully, that much is for sure, and she constantly tries to get all other birds out of the terrace, though when the pheasant arrives it seems she gangs up with the tiny robin to find strength in numbers. Though a robin and a blackbird really don’t seem to be enough to scare a large old pheasant cock…
The great tits have a clear pecking order; there is an older, rather dishevelled-looking bird that seems to have a mane of grey hair, if you can imagine what that would look like, and he/she is definitely the boss of the other great tits. The blue tits don’t care, though; they are playful and carefree, bordering on the irreverent, and they flutter merrily about whenever they are chased from a feed ball. They will also gladly perch three at a time on the same dangling feed ball, which does cause problems if they are scared away as their wings seem to get in each other’s way, occasionally causing them to drop as a ball of feathers for half a meter before they disentangle themselves and manage to actually fly.
Then, of course, there are the nuthatches. They seem to be entirely indifferent to all other birds on the terrace; they merely come to eat, and if there’s no room on any of the feed balls they fly back out into the garden. The woodpeckers are the same, though they don’t care if there is room or not, as all the small birds obviously evacuate whatever feed ball a woodpecker decides to land on.
The jays and magpies are, of course, rascals. They eat very little but make a great mess of things. It seems they’d rather play football with the feed balls than actually eat from them. They put on a great show, but I can’t help thinking they’ve sort of missed the point of the whole concept.
My favourite, though, is the little robin. The Eurasian robin is a tiny bird – unlike the American robin which is a thrush, I believe – and he seems so shy. It takes next to nothing to get him to seek shelter under the garden furniture, but for some reason he has decided that – unlike the rest of the birds – he will pay little attention to what happens inside the house. When I rise from the sofa the tits will almost invariably be scared away, but the robin will keep pottering about, pecking at a feed ball here and a pile of dead leaves there.
But personal favouritism aside, of course the pheasant is the star of the show, and he knows it. He is clearly proud of his appearance, and rightfully so. Also, there is something fascinating about such a large bird visiting the terrace and being only meters away from my spot in the sofa corner. And, of course, I reared a brood of pheasants once when I was a child. I bought 18 pheasant eggs and got one of my broody hens to lay on them. (Did you know pheasant eggs have the most beautiful olive shell?) She managed to hatch 17 of the eggs, which was far better than I had dared to hope for, and she was a wonderful mother to them, though she seemed very confused that their natural instinct was to run away whenever she warned them of a possible danger – like anybody coming anywhere near them – rather than cower down and hide as chickens would do.
I never tried to domesticate my pheasants; they were destined to be set free on my paternal grandfather’s farmland, and the more of their wild instincts they kept, the better for them. My grandfather loved to go hunting, so I sold the pheasants to him, and just in case you find me cynical, these pheasants got to live a great life outside in fields and hedgerows, and if they had the sense to stay on my grandfather’s land they will all have died of old age since he was a very poor shot and not a single one of them ended up on his dinner table or as a feather in his cap…
(Apart from pheasants and chickens I also had ducks at one point – they suffered an untimely death as I had bought the ducklings as an investment and thus put them all down and sold them off for Christmas dinners when they were nice and plumb. But they did have good lives, I assure you.)
However, now night has fallen, the birds have gone to where birds go to sleep and there is nought to be seen on the terrace – indeed the terrace itself is barely visible in the darkness. So now: Time for dinner!
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