Despite her lovely fat balls, the birds in Sarah Millican’s garden all sodded off. She decided to find out why.
I know I live in the country because I can hear birds. That’s how I know. Don’t get me wrong, there are other signs: the local pub has hanging baskets; there are often no pavements, and sometimes outside just smells of shit. But if you can hear birds, you’re probably at least in a park or near the beach (or a pet shop or the tip). You’re somewhere excellent, is what I’m saying.
I’ve always been fond of birds. I loved budgies: I had three of them and they were all I could really draw as a kid. I still know the Latin name for them (Melopsittacus undulatus). The only crime I’ve ever committed is budgie related. I once read budgie books in the reference library while eating handfuls of iced gems (eating in there is strictly forbidden; luckily the books were large enough to hide a bespectacled and loudly crunching 10-year-old).
So when my mother-in-law bought us a bird table for the garden, I was thrilled. There were three hooks for food and a water bowl. Oh yes, they got choice. Sunflower seeds, generic bird seed, meal worms. It took them a while to trust us, which I assumed meant they’d been hurt in the past and needed time to heal. Maybe the previous owners had hung realistic paintings of fat balls up and the bird were made to look foolish as they slammed into them, gobs open.
All full up and ready to go
But then they came. In no time there were tits aplenty, jays, wood pigeons, arsey magpies, rooks (or crows; I still don’t know which) and a pied wagtail we called Barry. It went a bit crackers with sometimes nine or 10 birds feeding at once. Like a scene from The Birds where our eyeballs were played by fat balls. We were adding bird seed to our big shop. Oh and just so you know, it isn’t ‘tuppence a bag’, Julie bloody Poppins.
We rented wildlife. We put food out and watched the best telly channel there is. We told each other when we’d seen a new bird; I showed off my bird recognition skills to my husband. It’s nice to have new ways to impress a man after nine years together.
But then, mid September, it all stopped. I know birds fly south for the winter (bloody Londoners get everything) but I didn’t think they all went. On the same day. Like they’d arranged a coach trip. For example, I know robins are still around as they’re on Christmas cards. We binned the food in case it was stale, we washed out the containers, refilled them. Still nothing. For three weeks, our garden was silent and sad. We assumed we had a predator lurking and I tentatively wandered about the garden looking for anything skinned and bodybuilders in combat gear. Then I remembered that’s The Predator not A predator.
Thankfully, some of the birds are back. It isn’t a squawky chaos any more but we have enough to keep us happy. I think they all went on holiday and a few Shirley Valentined it.
Birds: they just can’t resist a delicious fat ball
Nik Shelton, an RSPB spokesman says:
“We have had a lot of calls from people since September saying something very similar: where have all our birds gone? This is down to birds’ feeding and breeding habits. It has been an exceptionally mild autumn, which means there are plenty of insects available for birds in the wider countryside. There has also been a good berry crop this year, so there is a lot of food about for birds and they don’t need to come into gardens as much.
September is the end of the breeding season for most birds. During spring and summer they pair up, nest and hold territories until their chicks have fledged. But after this they no longer need to stay in the same place and will often go off into the countryside and form flocks with other birds. At this time of year many birds also moult in readiness for their winter plumage. This process takes a lot of energy and loss of their flight feathers leaves them vulnerable to predators so they are more likely to lie low out of sight.
Many birds do fly south for the winter, but these are different from the birds at your garden feeder. Birds like swallows, swifts and turtle doves will migrate to Africa but aren’t generally found in gardens.
Don’t worry – your birds will be back, as soon as the food runs out in the countryside. And just in time, hopefully, for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on January 24 and 25: http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch”
Or they went on holiday and some of them Shirley Valentined it. Definitely one or the other.
Sarah Millican is a comedian, writer, reformed workaholic, feminist, cat and dog mam, wife and lover of food.