This morning I heard a woodpecker in the trees nearby. I have seen his vibrant colours before now, his looping flight drawing semi-circles in the morning sky, but not until today have I heard the sound of him seeking grubs from the bark of a dead tree. Poor bugs I thought at first, all cosy inside the winter bark. A rude awakening for sure – that sudden battering against the walls of sleep like someone firing an Uzi in the bedroom. But the woodpecker must feed and if you happen to be prey for a predator, then this is part of your life, and your death.
The garden birds are both hungry and thirsty within our frozen landscape and they need our help. This weekend is the official Bird Count and I hope everyone will take part, for our garden birds are under threat. It shocked me to discover that many of the ordinary visitors to the garden are now marked as amber or red on the RSPB web site, indicating their demise, and it may not be something that will get better, not without human interest and support. Sparrows in huge and chattering groups make a thinner sound in our hedgerows. Why is that? Because we have taken the hedgerows down clearing land and clearing land again for new houses, offices, big settlements with concrete pathways and fat houses for the hungry home-dweller market.
Birds, like us, are creatures of habit. Swallows, swifts and house martins, wintering in Africa, fly over thousands of miles to nest in the same place they nested the year before, in barns and empty buildings, that can be razed to the ground in a day, leaving them lost and wondering. Owls have no place to rear their young, unless some wise man has fixed up a nest box in safe, quiet woodland. Is there any safe quiet woodland left I wonder? Thrushes are dwindling and even the blackbird and the robin, so very common in our thoughts, are less in number country wide.
But, this is not about doom and gloom, for we can all do our bit. We can’t stop progress, nor should we, for this is the turning wheel of life and we must turn with it. We have no choice. But, we can do our own small bit to help.
In winter, birds need water, and not just to drink. They must be able to wash and clean their feathers on a regular basis. A shallow bird table, freshened through the week will not only bring more birds to our gardens for their own good, but for ours as well, for birds are enchanting to watch as they go about their normal lives. Fat balls and good quality bird seed on a table will save them from wasting precious winter energy flying miles in search of something to eat. Food scraps, and tired old fruit are a good food source too. Check the RSPB web site for more information.
The ground is like iron just now, so the earthworms are safe for a while, but not the birds that depend of them for food.
Let us pay attention and not turn away from this because of our busy lifestyles. We can all do something, and that is what excites me about this crazy life. We may think this doesn’t really matter to us, but without birds a lot of our wild flowers and trees would never seed in the first place. I don’t go with those who say the world is on an inevitable downward spiral into the black hole of time, but I do know that if we all do a little bit, form a new habit, we, you and me in our ordinary lives, in ordinary streets and houses, can really make an extraordinary difference.
‘The Woodpecker has to go!’