Garden Birds – Jackdaws and Feeders

Chimney Breast through Silver Birch

This chimney breast with its nice little triangular entrances is a perfect home for any bird that likes to live up at roof level and raise its young.  It’s dry and defendable and has a great outlook. I can see the back of this house from my house, it is in an adjoining road. I guess they don’t use their chimney.

We used to see swifts return in May and swoop into this chimney breast to raise a brood over summer, they would eat the flies, never came down to the ground at all and we enjoyed them careering around the sky through the summer months before they left for Africa in the autumn. One year however,  they came back to find that a family of jackdaws had moved in and they had lost their summer home.  We were sad, not a particularly rational sadness because that is the nature of things but sad nonetheless.

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden...

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden…

The jackdaws are quite polite birds, from a human perspective, they don’t bully the other birds that much, they don’t make that much of a mess, but they are very very keen on hoovering out the contents of the seed feeder that we put up and I am concerned that if they have such a large and ever available supply of food on their doorstep they will lay more eggs, raise bigger broods and before we know it we will just have twice as many as now.

I think she's been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

I think she’s been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

The whole feeding wild life in the garden issue is fraught with potential issues.

I will list some of them here:

  • you create an artificial food source and the population swells, you stop feeding for some reason, the creatures starve as they can’t find other food:
  • you don’t clean and disinfect the feeders which become intensively visited and therefore parasites and disease pass easily from one bird to the next;
  • you feed the wrong types of food and they get ill: you feed whole peanuts which get fed to fledglings which then choke; you get all sorts of strange things growing under the feeders which have rooted and maybe are not what you want growing in your garden;
  • you get guano where the birds sit and wait for their turn on the feeders;
  • you get mice and rats visiting if there is lots of food being dropped on the ground;
  • you get birds that, for your own ‘human’ reasons you don’t like, or just too many of one sort and you start to think of Hitchcock and The Birds,  you get crows and feral pigeons, or starlings in large numbers whilst lamenting the photogenic goldfinch or the endangered tree sparrow;
  • you have a small dog who eats any fat the birds chuck about and gets very ill indeed;
  • you get cats and sparrowhawks lying in wait for the birds and predating them and then you get to see nature red in tooth and claw and to a tender-hearted soul this is not a pretty sight;
  • you get blackbirds ‘stealing’ your precious homegrown fruit, (Zeb guards the one little blueberry bush from the blackbird and gets very cross with it).
I am going to check this out right away...

I am going to check this out right away…

In short, the catalogues that bounce through our letter box with pretty bird feeders gleaming in the sunlight festooned with little birds being fed by our bountiful kindness doesn’t paint the whole story; many people give up feeding the birds when they come across these issues and I can’t say I blame them at all.

I've brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news...

I’ve brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news…

Stubbornly though we like to feed the birds and have them in the garden, we like to hear their songs and see them fly about, they are a key component of what makes a garden a garden for us but we have cut back on what and how we feed.

We have one small feeder with niger seed for the goldfinches and a taller one for the smaller birds and a ground feeder with a cage over it for those who prefer to hop in.  We don’t feed fat pellets any more, but mainly a mix of seeds, corn and dried mealworms.

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

Yesterday while watching the jackdaws doing their hoovering trick once more I looked on the internet and found At Last a Pigeon Proof Bird-Feeder by Ianvisits with its delightful illustrations.

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

We purchased a pair of hanging baskets, fixed them together with cable ties and have attempted to put sticks in at angles in the style of Ian’s post. It has temporarily baffled the jackdaws and the smaller birds are delighted. The jackdaws are smart birds though and I am not counting on them not finding a way to get the seed out.

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

In the meantime dunnock, robin, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and goldfinches and all the smallies are having a great time!

21 thoughts on “Garden Birds – Jackdaws and Feeders

  1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    It’s an issue, isn’t it? Our neighbour feeds an entire flock of rainbow lorikeets in his backyard – he feeds them bread, not sure how good that is for them – but as a result the adjoining street tree has become their home (we’re talking about maybe 50+ birds), and they make a huge racket every day at 4pm if he hasn’t made it home in time to feed them. It’s lovely having birds around, and they don’t do too much damage to our veg patch, but I do feel sorry for all the old Italian neighbours growing fruit trees!

    1. Joanna Post author

      That sounds like a huge flock of noisy birds to have in an urban street! I guess that is why people grow fruit in cages if they do it seriously, my great aunt Marjorie grew all her soft fruit in a cage in her garden. I can remember being allowed in it to pick raspberries as a little girl. But with the trees – you can’t really cage them unless they are on dwarf root stock.

  2. timethief

    You itemized the problems that come with bird feeding above. We fed songbirds for years but last year we decided to end that. Our deck garden was covered with droppings and they attracted our dogs who ate them. Also many birds flew into the windows no matter how many methods we used to deter them from doing so. It was a tough decision to make but we made it.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Some of the problems that I have met over the years I guess. My dogs don’t eat the droppings so I am fortunate in that regard and I also have the space to move the feeders away from where we would sit out ourselves. If you have a deck, I can imagine that would be nigh on impossible. I think we have had one window bird strike in ten years. It is something to do with the angle of the light and reflections isn’t it? I think my windows don’t look transparent to birds, Decisions as you say have to be made.

  3. hotlyspiced

    It never occurred to me that there’s so much to consider when you feed birds! Is there any animal out there that has to work so hard to build their own home! I think birds (with their tiny brains) are very clever. I’m glad you’ve found a feeding system that so far, is working well for you xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      I am sure there are other animals that work hard building homes, beavers, ants, termites, humans ! But yes birds are very clever and very persistent if they get an idea in their heads. The feeding system changes year on year. We stopped completely for a while when the dog was sick and the birds went elsewhere, so we have scaled back on what we do. Plus we have lost a tree in the storms this winter that we used to hang the feeders in nearer the kitchen. Gardens always change :)

  4. Ann

    What a clever idea with the two hanging baskets. Am I right in thinking that jackdaws are like magpies in liking bright shining things? Keep an eye on your jewellery! I like the captions.
    I have never fed birds in the garden because, until recently, I have always had a cat. However there have still been plenty of birds around and the wattlebirds used to swoop on the cat and give him a really hard time. The birds are enjoying my figs just now and Spot spends a lot of time foraging under the tree to get any that they have dropped. I try to prevent him from having too many!!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I know they are supposed to be clever. I really am not keen on magpies, they are always poking their beaks into the nest boxes and trying to fish out the baby birds, and from my human point of view I think that is really mean behaviour. I was talking to the guy who we go and collect our winter organic veg from in the week and he said that they had had an eagle owl out at the farm one time, who was huge and he worried for the farm cats. I am sooo jealous of people who have figs in winter…. I am a fig obsessive, I would get down there with Spot and forage !

  5. Debra Kolkka

    At Casa Debbio the birds arrive as soon as our cherries arrive and stand on the branches and glare at me if I dare to eat one. I have considered having bird feeders, but I worry what happens when I am not there.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Oh that is mean of them to eat all your cherries, I hope you get some this year. There was one year when I picked loads of tiny wild cherries locally and couldn’t understand why the birds hadn’t had them, I have never seen them in such numbers since. We might put in a cherry tree where the other tree blew down. I think we will get one on dwarf stock so that we can pick them easily. But I suspect the birds will get most of them. We used to be told in the UK to stop feeding the birds in the summer months, but now they advise all year round feeding. I think it is a personal choice what to do and depends very much on your garden layout and how you use your garden.

  6. LesleyM

    We are avid bird feeders, and spend a small fortune on food. I even bake ‘bird cake’ three times a week.
    My recipe – more guess than weigh –
    8oz. Stork (or substitute), a handful of sugar – any kind.
    Beat together, add 2 eggs, 8oz Wholemeal SR flour, 8oz Porridge oats, 3 tsp baking powder,
    a generous handful of sultanas, milk, buttermilk or yoghurt to mix.
    Fill 3 lined 2lb loaf tins & bake at 200c for 35mins.
    Also, when I experiment with a new recipe and it goes wrong, the birds get that as well!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Lesley, I am guessing you have a vast and devoted bird population who visit you to eat all that wonderful grub you offer them :) I don’t think I could put out cake here as the other poodle (pancreatitis) would hoover up any pieces dropped on the ground in a flash and be back in the vet hospital.

      Once upon a time I experimented with making bird fat cakes but that was in winter time and I think we had fieldfares and other strangers who were lost and hungry.

      When we used to feed a lot more, we used to go to Albert E James, animal feed suppliers, mainly cattle and horses but they also did big sacks of bird food and we would go there and stock up. Much cheaper over a long season of bird feeding than buying in small bags locally.

  7. lindaswildlifegarden

    I feed all year round and record them at (I have taken out the link as I can’t get it to work, just says buffering, sorry)
    and we had a family of blue tits raise a family last year in my cam next box

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Linda, I see you commented twice, the first one went into moderation because it contained a hyperlink but I have rescued it and put that one here and tidied up the link,(see above edit) hope that is OK with you. We have nestboxes at the far end of the garden and usually get one nesting pair of either blue tits or great tits. No cam though!

  8. narf77

    We have swifts that flit across the blue sky and that live in the lofty turrets of the Batman Bridge that spans the Tamar River where I often head on my early morning walks with Earl (the wonder dog). I love that they seem to be almost entirely arboreal and that they are creatures of the blue sky that head off when the sky starts to darken. I didn’t know they had to fly all the way to Africa! The poor little sods!

    We don’t have Jackdaws here in Tasmania (or even Australia I think…too lazy to check…) but we do have their nefarious cousins the clever bollocks blackbirds. NEVER in my life have I felt like I was being watched by a more intelligent creature than when I looked up to see a blackbird sitting on a fence picket watching me as I read. I saw a latent intelligence simmering…waiting…willing me to get up out of my chair and head out the front door and throw him some bread and you know what, by gosh, I did! Obviously they are able to control our limbs with mind waves. I have harboured a secret fear of their beady little eyes ever since and make sure to keep my tin-foil hat at the ready in order to shove it firmly down onto my head at the first sign of those beady eyes so that I can continue to read my book unaffected by blackbird mind rays…oh, and they eat my blackberries as well! The ONLY thing that makes blackberries worth suffering is to eat their babies in late summer and the blackbirds obviously think the same thing!

    That list is terrifying! Lucky I just provide water and the odd tiny hunk of cheese that is solely for the brave Grey Shrike Thrushes that my dad used to feed mince to and that come back every year to the kitchen window sill to collect their feel for them allowing us to live on their land. We get little blue wren visitors as well and they obviously suffer from “small bird syndrome” as they are bolshie little buggers that spend most of the time and energy squabbling over just who gets to steal the shrikes cheese first.

    We used to find the poor shrikes wings, the only bit left after the feral cats caught them but now we have dealt with the feral cats the shrikes and all of the other birds are returning. It took them a week and they are all back squabbling over the water baths as water is a scarce commodity in Sidmouth in late summer to say the least!

    I do my bit “feeding” the birds by allowing them to eat all of the blackberries that are too high for greedy narf7 hands to reach (without having to suffer a trip to the ER at Launceston General Hospital and suffer the shame of having to have Steve cut me out of the blackberries and release their tangled “get off my babies!” barbed tendrils from my (stupidly) long hair. They also get to predate all of the insects that flock from hundreds of miles around (along with the possums, wallabies and now bush rats) to attempt to eat my fully enclosed vegetable garden. They are welcome to the plethora of stink bugs, white fly, aphids and anything else that they can guzzle as far as I am concerned. I would leave the door open in the day but for the fact that my fat hens would be inside the enclosure guzzling and scratching to their hearts content as well and they don’t satisfy themselves with only eating insects!

    Hee-hee! I loved that link. What a clever bugger and obviously his impenetrable fortress of feed is the work of a desperate man. I understand that desperation! I would have used old knitting needles…pointy end OUT! ;)

    I thought “dunnocks” were Scottish scones…err…I think that is a “bannock?” or is that Irish?! Oh bollocks! I guess my antipodean is showing through…best be off before I am marched away and soundly thrashed for my impudence! Loved today’s post :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Never had a hot bannock yet but I live in hope! On jackdaws and blackbirds, ‘puts birding hat on’, the jackdaw is a member of the Corvid family (crows – the smartest of the birds as far as scientists are concerned) the smallest one I think, our sub-species locally have dark grey heads – the name given on Wiki is Western Jackdaw for the species. The rarest native corvid is the chough, which can be found in Cornwall and I have seen also in Pembrokeshire, they have bright red bills.

      Blackbirds we have too but they are from the thrush family and behave differently. Our blackbirds are great wormers and skulkers in the undergrowth, they like to turn over the soil looking for food and chuck things around and they pull up worms with great precision. They also eat fruit and berries with great enthusiasm but are not that keen on seed. I have never had loads in the garden, I think they are territorial so you don’t usually find more than a couple in a patch. Other thrush family members that we get in Englan are robin, dunnock (also known misleadingly as hedge sparrow, but not a sparrow) song and mistle thrush and then in the winter the migrant or passing through redwings and fieldfares.

      Blackbirds can become very tame and come into the house on food quests or just out of curiosity and they are one of the early birds to get up and they sing away first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Just like that Cat Stevens ‘Morning has broken’.. I love the song of the blackbird ! We used to have one at the back of our old house who sang suspiciously like the alien spaceship theme tune in ‘Close Encounters’…. make of that what you will. Have a lovely day Fran and thanks for encouraging me to write a post this weekend xx

      PS Shrikes here are often called butcher birds, from their habit of catching their food and putting it on a spike to eat later….

      1. narf77

        I adore blackbird song. I listen to it, and then whistle a little song of my own back which then becomes a major “singing” competition which the blackbird invariably wins because I lose interest SO easily ;). They scuttle around in the undergrowth here and pop out to eye you off suspiciously whenever you make an appearance in “their” garden, especially in the vicinity of “their” blackberry bushes when they are producing. In the city they were entirely different than here. Here they are timid and suspicious. In the city they were curious and would sit on the window sill to remind me to throw bread out for them and they had babies year in and year out in shrubs in the garden. They adapt very easily and my daughters don’t even mind them eating their Jostaberries as they say that they taste like “meat berries” (raw meat crossed with fruit ECH!) so the blackbirds are welcome to them (although I am not entirely sure they will be so happy when they start on their grapes! ;) )

        Always happy to help a fellow blogger get enthusiastic about life enough to post and share with friends :)

  9. ediblethings

    A lovely post, Joanna. I never minded the birds – any of them were welcome even the pigeons. It was feeding the squirrels I objected to, who then bred and bred and bred and ate almost everything in the garden, except the brassicas. They even quickly learned to eat the chilli powder I would coat the seeds with liberally in an attempt to discourage them.
    Here in the Netherlands, the only bird I mind feeding is the heron, who comes every spring to help himself to my precious frogs. I need them for slug patrol. The herons are much bolder here than their British cousins, because they live in such close proximity to all the people.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you! … the squirrels are very naughty aren’t they and then when they run out of brassicas they disappear into people’s lofts and eat their electric cables as they did next door….

      We do get herons in gardens here and I have seen them sitting over the road in the tree, they tend to fish in people’s ponds and steal their goldfish. My neighbour has netted hers to stop them. I once saw one fishing after midnight in an illuminated rill with fish outside Charing Cross Hospital in the heart of London, I thought he was plastic, until he moved… !

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