A rude awakening that’s a joy to swallow


At the beginning of the week, I was awakened by a cacophony of chattering outside the bedroom window.

On opening the curtains, I was amazed to see that the telephone wires were absolutely festooned in hirundines (to non-birders, the wires were covered in swallows and martins!).

There must have been several hundred and they seemed to be filled with excitement, prior to setting off on their epic migration to Africa. For a few days this infectious restlessness builds until all of a sudden, they disappear, leaving us to look forward to the coming winter, without the pleasure of their company. It seems no time since we were eagerly awaiting their arrival in April, with the promise of summer ahead.

However, the coming of winter is inevitable and now is a good time to start preparing to help our feathered friends which don’t have the luxury of an African holiday in prospect.

Start stocking up with peanuts, fat balls and seeds by buying some every week and storing them in a mouse-proof container. Feeders should be checked and renewed where necessary and now is a good time to start thinking about erecting nest boxes in the garden. It will give the birds time to get used to them and they may even provide cosy roosts during cold snaps, for some of the smaller birds like wrens.

This year’s apple crop seems to be pretty heavy in the Borders, so instead of composting or throwing away unwanted windfalls, why not try storing the best of them for the birds.

Blackbirds, thrushes, redwings and fieldfares are particularly fond of apples.

Don’t scatter huge amounts around the lawn at once or you will attract vermin and many will be wasted once they become half-eaten and rot.

What I do is get some stout wire (wire coat hangers are ideal) and cut it into lengths of about six inches. With a pair of pliers, bend one end over to form a short open hook.

Push the straight bit through the apple core until the hook becomes embedded. You can now anchor the apple to the lawn by pushing the protruding bit into the ground. This holds it firmly in place while the birds are pecking at it and stops the crows flying off with it.

Blackbirds also love pears which can be impaled in the same manner but unfortunately, windfall pears do not store, so I would use them up before the apples.

After two severe winters in a row, some of our smaller garden birds are struggling, so with a little forethought and preparation, we can do our bit to help see them through the next one.