….It costs more than tuppence
My mother had a bird table outside her living room window, which given that she kept cats as well seemed a little harsh, but despite the cats her bird table was visited by hundreds of birds. I used to be vaguely interested when I visited, but never to the extent of setting up a bird table of my own. Yes we had one in the garden, what family with young children doesn’t at some point, but it was more of a support for the creeping bindweed than hungry birds. But it seems I have reached that age – I have developed an interest in feeding the birds. And I have a garden that is perfect for doing this.
On your first visit to Bermuda you might be forgiven for thinking the only bird around is a Kiskadee. They are noisy. Not endemic to the island, they were brought across from Trinidad in 1957 to control the anolis lizard (which itself was imported to control a fruit parasite). For the most part Kiskadees ignored the lizards and preferred insects and berries both plentiful so now we have lots of lizards and lots of Kiskadees. They don’t need any help from me to find food.
What we do have in Bermuda are sparrows – the same ones you saw when growing up but not now so common in UK. I was going to insist that the sparrows we have here are Old World Sparrows, not the American Tree Sparrow, but having looked at various images on the web I am not so certain about this – maybe one of my friends from the Bermuda Audubon Society will put me right.
But the bird I am trying to attract to my feeder is a Red Cardinal. I know he is close by, my neighbour ( the lemon-drizzle-cake-one) has him calling at her table and I am determined to get him to come round the corner.
So I set off to a garden centre to find a bird feeder. Actually I set off to first find a garden centre. To save you the petrol costs of a round-the-island drive, it is actually just off the roundabout in Paget, the one where Johnny Barnes greets the morning traffic. Don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, right opposite the National Trust offices at Waterville.
Here I made two mistakes: firstly I bought cheap seed feeders and secondly I baulked at paying $30 for a large tub of bird seed.
The tub would have been a good idea – bird seed is around $5 per litre and the tub was at least 10 litres, bargain. But I didn’t know that then. A stubborn streak prevented me from returning later so I ended up at another store with 5 litres of proper bird seed, 5 litres of scratch mix and another 5 litres of sunflower seed at the grand total of $54 (Bermuda cost of living is high, no less so for the birds). Plus of course the large plastic box with lid.
The lesson of the cheap feeders was short and brutal – first one disappeared overnight, then the second on the next night. Note, “disappeared”, not “fell off the hook” or “broke”, plain disappeared. Clearly I needed either a substantial feeder on a big hook or a roll of duct tape – I now have both. I have absolutely no idea what can have carried off my cheap feeders, cat? cockroach? heron?
The Red Cardinal comes from Virginia, likely deliberately introduced in the late 17th century, not this time to eat lizards, but probably as a caged bird, to look pretty. They certainly are very pretty. It is about the season for them to be mating and then they will build messy nests, lay brown mottled eggs and be conscientious parents with the young hatching in April. This from the “Guide to the Birds of Bermuda” by Eric Amos, a 1990 copy of which I found in the library. He begins with a statement that ornithology began in the mid 1800s when military men exchanged their shotguns for binoculars.
Apart from sparrows and maybe a cardinal I can expect a few starlings, mourning doves (a posh name for a small pigeon) and maybe a grey catbird that reportedly has a “long rambling introspective song” (no idea). It is unlikely that I will see the other birds – bluebirds and vireos – both populations declined with the loss of cedar trees in the mid 20th century.
We are fortunate to have a waterfront garden onto Harrington Sound and from the dock if I sit quietly I can see an assortment of water birds – herons, egrets and terns in the main, but in the summer there are white-tailed tropic birds or long tails – it seems the whole neighbourhood has created nesting holes for them and last year at least two pairs were successful in breeding. I don’t need to feed these birds but if I take some bread down for the fish the birds soon appear.
So how am I getting on with my bird feeding project?
While I can watch them from the safety of the sofa, they won’t pose for photographs!
But look what they have done to my table – that is for my coffee, not random bird seed, what a mess!