A Winter Feast


When did people first start feeding the birds in their gardens or outside their cave or stone hut? It is perhaps a normal instinct to attract a creature that gives you pleasure merely to look at and admire, or to listen to in the morning chorus. Birdsong and bird behaviour have long interested mankind and today they are not only written about extensively but are almost daily put in front of our eyes by television. Feeding the birds is a feature of both country and city life. A friend in the midlands tells of a person who is largely confined to the house, who uses something like a hundredweight per month of peanuts. And here is where an element of hard work comes into it all. The falling shreds of nuts or whatever will sooner or later draw rats. Or may. And in any case, for the sake of your own health and that of the birds, the feeders should be regularly cleaned. A simple scalding of a bird table, for example.

And those in the country may have visits from squirrels. Lovely things to look at, too, and why shouldn't they also accept your hospitality? Well, if they're the red squirrel, that's not so bad, they are comparatively light in weight and unlikely to bring down your bird feeder or to scare away the birds. But the greys, that's another matter. They are not only heavier than the reds, but more aggressive. Not that you grudge them the nuts, but they may scare off some of the more timid birds. So it was with some satisfaction that a friend received a squirrel-free hanging birdfeeder. It's just your ordinary, but over the top goes a sort of plastic inverted soup-plate. The squirrel can only come down the wire or rope to the feeder and then he is unable to swing around the wide loose slippery cover. It will be tried out.

And in case you have red squirrels at your feeder, a writer in the Sunday Telegraph warned that red squirrels must not depend on peanuts for their diet. A veterinary scientist has said that feeding only on peanuts by these squirrels, leads to bone disease like rickets. Give them, he said, a balanced diet of peanuts, maize, pine nuts, wheat, sunflower seeds, carrots and apple. And on that apple: a French sporting Magazine tells you how to best employ this. You cut the apple in four, pierce the lot with a strong wire, bend it at the bottom so the apple slices don't fall off, make a hook at the top of the wire and hang it from a branch. "Un regal hivernal" a winter feast, says the magazine. Y