The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird watch this weekend gives me, I feel, the perfect excuse to involve you in the saga which is currently gripping all at Lawn Road…. The disappearance of the ‘fat balls’…..
As you will see from the picture above, my office looks out on our garden – wonderfully large for London, and filled with flora and fauna – squirrels, foxes, slugs…, hedgehogs we think, cats and…..
Well, yes, birds but, until very recently, only in the tops of the trees. Despite endless exotic bird tables, five star feeders, luxury ‘wild bird seed’, nesting boxes and artistically arranged bird baths, while pigeons and blackbirds would plod endlessly across the lawn, the small birds would sing lustily in the tree tops but refused come down to ground level. Blaming our overdose of predatory cats, I had more or less abandoned all hope.
Then, just after Christmas, I was in the garden doing some tidying when a friendly robin fluttered down onto a nearby bush and watched me for a good two minutes. Hope, which does spring eternal, seized me… I just wonder if it might be worth one more go….
So I dusted down the one of the five-star bird feeders mouldering in the attic, filled it with fresh and succulent seeds and hung on the lower branches of the acer tree you can just see on the left of the picture – too small for a pigeon or blackbird to get a footing, too high for the cats to even think about it and on too spindly a branch to hold a squirrel.
Whether it was the freezing weather forecast or whether they finally decided to take pity on me, the small birds had a change of heart and all of a sudden, our feeder was alive with tits and robins making speedy inroads into the seeds!
Although my intention had certainly not been to feed the resident blackbirds and pigeons as well, they soon cottoned on to the fact that if they hung around just below the feeder, the little birds would knock down succulent morsels for them as they landed and took off. So not only did we have the pleasure of watching the little birds come and go, but the amusement of watching the pigeons, one of whom soon took command of the situation, stationing himself directly under the feeder and doing his best to chase off all comers.
Overjoyed by my success, I decided to go one better and brought back a packet of ‘fat balls’ (‘fruit, nut, seed and insect flavours..’) from the pet shop down the road, each one neatly packed in its little nylon net. I slotted some garden wire thought the netting and tied it to the tree by the feeder – and success, the birds loved it.
For two days, little work was done while we all stood watching our birds enjoy their treat, then, on day three, the fat ball had disappeared! There was the little nylon net, hanging by its garden wire – but no fat ball to be seen…. Oh well, I thought, I can’t have secured it properly, so out I went and tied up another one, this time making sure that I secured it really well.
But, the following morning – gone again! Nylon net hanging sadly but no fat ball… This time, closer examination of net showed that it had been torn – but by whom?
I had watched the squirrels testing out the branches for hours to get to the bird feeders but finally giving up in frustration. There is no way that our cats could have got up there – even if they were not far too well fed to be remotely interested in a fat ball…. The pigeons? They certainly could not have landed on the branches or the feeder. Could they have dive-bombed the fat ball, tearing the net enough for the ball to fall out? And if so, could they have picked it up and flown off with it – or did a passing squirrel seize the moment– and the fat ball?
OK, I thought, I’ll fix you… A netted bag of courgettes provided a much more robust (or so I thought) container for the fat ball. I cut it down to size, secured its neck with a solid plastic cable grip and threaded three rounds of garden wire through the netting and round the branch. Hah!
Well hah! it was for two days but come last Sunday morning – what greeted me? A forlornly flapping Tesco courgette net – with no fat ball… Once again, the net had been torn – but who is tearing it? Short of setting up a hide in the drawing room and giving up all pretence of doing a day’s work, how am I to find out?
Meanwhile – I am not to be beaten. Most of Sunday morning was spent constructing the Fort Knox of fat ball nets from a double layer of chicken wire looped together with five rounds of garden wire….
So far it is holding (today is Thursday) although this morning, on my way back from the compost heap, I noticed that the chicken wire on one side had not been properly linked in with the wire and had been pulled out, although not enough for the fat ball to fall out. Half an hour’s reconstruction work and it is back in place – but how long will it last? And who is to blame?….
If you have nothing better to do – watch this space!