It’s not only Cuckoos that fly south for the winter
Autumn is one of the busiest times of year for many wild birds as they fly to warmer climates where they are guaranteed a plentiful supply of food.  Although we lose many of our summer visitors including Swallows, House Martins, Warblers and Flycatchers, their place in the garden will soon be taken up by birds flying in from Scandinavia, Russia or even further a field.

Many summer birds leave us, but because of climate change we are now seeing an increasing number of Chiffchaffs remaining here during the winter.  They can often be found in local areas such as sewage treatment works, which provide warmth and shelter and also insects on tap!

Similarly Blackcaps are not all summer breeding birds. Ringing data has shown that some have been bred in much colder climates such as Germany and East Europe and they migrate to the warmer climes of the UK in the winter.

There is more food available here during winter than in the frozen North, but we can also do our bit to help those birds that are visiting us during the colder months, especially if the winter is as hard as last year.  Putting out good quality seed and suet based products, we are not only helping to keep them fit and healthy, but it will attract many birds not normally seen in the garden.

If you’re lucky you may well be rewarded by a visit from thrushes like Redwing and Fieldfares, or finches such as Brambling, Redpoll and Siskins. You may even attract more unusual birds such as Goldcrests and Firecrests that flock to the UK from Northern and Central Europe.  These tiny birds migrate across the North Sea and when the weather is particularly bad, they use the oilrigs and ships to rest during their journey.

Occasionally we become the winter residence to some spectacular migratory birds like Waxwings that descend upon us in great numbers because of limited food resources in Europe.  In a “Waxwing Winter” (such as in 2010), the birds scour the countryside for the last of the wild fruits, and then move into the towns to feast upon the berry-bearing bushes commonly found in
Are you killing your garden birds with kindness?
Bedfordshire is the UK capital of the bird world and we are very lucky to have the RSPB headquarters on our doorstep in Sandy. Thanks to the excellent work they do we are now able to identify and enjoy the many different species of wildlife birds that visit our gardens.

Over half of adults in the UK feed the birds in their garden and the most common item in bird feeders is peanuts, which are rich in fat and are particularly popular with tits and greenfinches.

But do we really know if the tit bits we leave out for the birds are doing them good or causing them harm? Unless they are top quality, peanuts can potentially be lethal because they contain a naturally occurring fungus, called aspergillus, which produces toxins that are poisonous to wild birds. 

Peanuts are imported and there has recently been a big increase in price.  So not only are we damaging the environment because of the increased carbon footprint and number of food miles, but also there is a risk  that imports can be of  poor quality, based on price rather than what is good for the birds. 

It is vital that the birds receive a well balanced diet as well as plenty of fresh drinking water.  Top grade mixed seeds and fat or suet based cakes, balls and pellets, which contains lots of energy, help birds survive during cold winters and sustain breeding birds when they are foraging for natural food for their young.

Bedfordshire has the ideal sandy soil for maize and sunflowers, which are the main crops used for birdseed. The Parrish family farm is on the Greensand Ridge at Chicksands and has now allocated several acres specifically for growing bird food. We also make the products on-site and this year we a have developed a new type of fat ball ‘the A-maiz-ing fat ball’ which includes more maize and less wheat providing the birds with a high energy feed all year round. Grown and manufactured locally, it means A-maiz-ing fat balls provide guaranteed quality and a much lower impact on the environment.

When you next purchase bird products read the label carefully. Imported products that contain cheap ingredients have very little nutritional value and so much is wasted because it falls out of the feeder onto the ground below.  By spending a few pence more on good quality products it is not only beneficial for the birds but in helps the environment too!

Why a racing pigeon hung up its wings
For the past few weeks our farm has played host to a racing pigeon from Dudley who decided it wanted to enjoy its summer vacation in the green and pleasant lands of Chicksands in Bedfordshire.

It began in early August when I found my 3 young children running around the garden ‘Benny Hill style’ chasing after a pigeon. Luckily the pigeon was fairly tame so I was able to catch it. Upon examination it became obvious that the pigeon had damaged its undercarriage, possibly from contact with a telegraph wire, which was probably the reason why it was over 100 miles out of its way from is home in Dudley.

Racing pigeons have been used for thousands of years as message carriers. In both World Wars racing pigeons carried vital messages and after the end of World War 2, the ‘Dickin Medal’, which is the equivalent of an animal Victoria Cross, was awarded to 32 birds for outstanding service.

All racing pigeons carry a unique numbered metal identification ring which registers the owner with the racing authority and also a separate identification mark carrying the owners contact details, which was stamped on the flight feathers of the pigeon’s wing.

The owner confirmed that the bird was quite valuable and had in fact won several prizes as a member of his ‘racing team’. He said that if we fed and watered the pigeon it would soon recover and would be back in the sky on its way home to Dudley after a couple of days.

By now the pigeon had become a firm family favourite and had been duly renamed ‘Lily’ by our 3-year-old daughter. So what better food to give to ‘our’ pigeon than one of our crushed up A-maiz-ing fat balls which contain our home grown seeds and provides highly nutritious feed for many different types of wild birds.

The upshot is that ‘Lily’ adored the fat balls and polished off a whole ball in 24 hours! In fact she has made herself so at home in Bedfordshire that two weeks later she is still with us and as I write, shows no sign of leaving!

Since our last column we have received emails from readers who have spotted many different birds feeding on our fat balls, including great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, great tit, blue tit, blackbirds, robins and wrens.
T: 01462 813 260 F: 01462 816442
F.B. Parrish and Son, Lodge Farm, Chicksands, Shefford, Bedfordshire SG17 5QB

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