Bored at home? Consider feeding the wide variety of birds in Bloomsbury.
The blandness and strange predictability of days spent indoors has come as something of a culture-shock to many of us accustomed to the unpredictable and dynamic life of Central London.
But there is a way in which you can bring something of the outdoors back into your life, while learning about one of the lesser known but delightful aspects of London, by taking up bird-feeding. Starting from scratch, you can set up an effective bird-feeding station for a price of £20, all ordered and delivered from the comfort of your armchair.
The Birds of Bloomsbury
Which birds are there in Bloomsbury, aside from the perpetual pigeons and occasional crows or starlings? There are a surprising number of birds in Bloomsbury whose populations vary from year to year. I have included a rough estimate of the number of times I have sighted each bird over the past year, to give an indication of their prevalence. Of course I have omitted pigeons, starlings, and crows.
Birds which you are certain to attract with the right food.
Goldfinches are fairly common in Bloomsbury. They roam London in small and large groups called ‘charms’, sometimes up to fifty in size during the early summer, although they disperse into smaller groups during the winter. They are attracted only by seeds.
2. Great Tit
Great tits are typically seen in groups of two, although during the winter they are often seen teaming up with other tits in large groups to scour the area for food, a natural behaviour in the wild. They are attracted by all types of food, but are particularly partial to suet.
Blue tits, the smaller cousins of the great tit, are rated as one of Britain’s most loved birds. They are full of strange but delightful oddities in their behaviour which over time you may come to observe. They are attracted by all types of food mentioned in this article.
Birds which you should eventually attract with some luck and persistence.
4. Coal Tit
There are perhaps only two or three breeding pairs of coal tits in Bloomsbury. Nonetheless they are attracted to sunflower hearts and exhibit ‘hoarding’ behaviour, so that if you provide a consistent and fairly large supply of seeds, you will have daily visits of coal tits coming to stock up on your food, hiding it for the winter.
Sightings: About 100.
5. Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed tits, aptly named due to their extraordinarily long tails, occasionally roam Bloomsbury exclusively in groups of about a dozen. There do not appear to be long-tailed tits currently living in Bloomsbury but they do live in places nearby, with a colony on the Regent’s Canal. They will sometimes go on wide searches for food in the Bloomsbury area, and are only but strongly attracted to suet.
Sightings: About 50.
Greenfinches are rather aggressive and large birds, often doing battle with smaller birds to gain access to food. There do not appear to be any living in Bloomsbury and they have not been sighted since late last year. There were a pair or two living on the Regent’s Canal until late. They are attracted only by seeds.
Sightings: About 50.
These are birds which have been sighted only a handful of times.
Chaffinches are fairly numerous in Regent’s Park. Towards the end of juvenility in late autumn, chaffinches go off on wide searches for new places to live. It is only under these circumstances that they appear to visit Bloomsbury
8. Great Spotted Woodpecker
The great spotted woodpecker is a remarkable bird whose sighting is bound to leave an impression. They appear to do well in Bloomsbury’s large plane trees, and are attracted by suet balls. It is typically only the juveniles during the spring and summer which are confident enough to visit bird feeders.
The Jay is rather large and often considered a pest in the countryside as they are corvids and will search for and plunder the nests of smaller birds. However I include them here as they are a rare sight in Bloomsbury, and evoke the most extraordinary responses from the smaller birds who will band together in large groups to harass and dive-bomb the Jay until it leaves the area. Perhaps due to this harassment they are rather rare.
There are other species which abound in Bloomsbury but which by their nature are not generally attracted to bird feeding stations.
Robins, unlike the other birds so far mentioned, do not ‘forage’ for food. They typically live in some territory which they defend, which must have a large amount of grass and soil to provide worms. For this reason, they are not typically observed at bird-feeders unless visible or within their territory, which in Bloomsbury is almost exclusively its squares.
Sightings: About 50.
The Wren is never found at bird-feeders, but they do live in the gardens and squares of Bloomsbury.
Sightings: About 10
The goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird. For that reason it is difficult to sight one, although they have a distinctive song heard during the spring and summer. They are remarkably confident given their size, but do not visit bird-feeding stations, instead eating small insects and typically nesting in Bloomsbury’s squares.
The dunnock can often be sighted hopping along the ground in Bloomsbury’s gardens, often mistaken for sparrows. They are reluctant to eat from feeders, but happily eat from the ground.
Sightings: About 20
Now that you have been introduced to the wide variety of birds in Bloomsbury, I will describe how to set up a bird-feeding station while avoiding the numerous mistakes which can be made, and most importantly how to avoid attracting the menace of pigeons.
Now to take up bird-feeding one thing must be made clear – you need to have a window which is close to a tree. If you have no trees within a few feet of a window, the chances are that the only bird you will successfully attract is a pigeon.
There is only one type of bird-feeder which I have found is appropriate to London, one of which can be found on Amazon here. They are typically about £10 to purchase.
It attaches to the window by means of suckers which does seem to be rather a precarious way to do things, but it works surprisingly well. I have had one on the window for almost a year without any problem.
The important reason to use this type is to prevent a large scale overspill of food onto the ground or window-ledge below. Conventional bird-feeders do not catch any waste but all crumbs created by birds will drop below and prove an irresistible feast for the hordes of pigeons which are far more numerous than we should like to imagine. Once pigeons come, it is almost impossible to deter them except by violent means, so it is best to entirely avoid the problem and use this feeder.
This type of bird-feeder also appears to be designed specifically to prevent pigeons from accessing the food directly, by means of its overhang which indeed successfully deters all but the most determined pigeon.
There is a large market for bird food, but strangely the vast majority of what appears in a Google or Amazon search is entirely inedible to anything but a pigeon or rat. Buying the wrong food is the main reason why bird feeding operations fail. There are only really five types of food which birds will eat, and only four which are appropriate to London.
DON’T Buy Food Mixes!
It is rather strange that in perusing the bird food market, there are a plethora of different ‘mixes’. The reality of these ‘mixes’ is that they contain a very small amount of food edible to birds, with a large amount of nonsense which only pigeons will eat. Birds will simply pass on the whole mix rather than risk accidentally eating some old piece of dried sweetcorn.
1st Choice: Sunflower Hearts
Every bird loves sunflower hearts (except long-tailed tits). Take care when purchasing them however to purchase sunflower hearts and not sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds contain the heart within a tough shell which only finches can break. The shells are also inedible and cause a great mess.
2nd Choice: Suet – but ONLY the ‘Quality’ Type
Suet balls are popular with tits and robins, although not finches, and are the only way to attract long-tailed tits. However there are two types of suet balls, only one of which is edible. The only type which I have found to be reliable is ‘Gardman Supreme Suet Balls’. Essentially everything else on the market is good for nothing except throwing at pigeons. They can be purchased in a 6 pack (or if you’re feeling ambitious) a 50 pack.
3rd Choice: Peanuts
Peanuts are popular among most birds, but appear not to be as appealing as sunflower hearts.
4th Choice: Mealworms
Mealworms are popular among tits especially during the spring when they will be feeding their young. Whereas finches mainly eat seeds, tits mainly survive on insects. However they are rather disgusting to deal with and in the summertime can attract wasps and other insects.
4. Possible Problems
The only problem you are likely to encounter is pigeons.
Seemingly harmless out on the streets of London, like those greedy individuals who have hoarded the stocks of shops, pigeons will descend in huge numbers from the most unsocial hours to gobble up all food available and happily sit on a window-ledge and cover it in unsanitary mess, while engaging in unseemly behaviour and making the most uncouth and disturbing of noises. They are the most disgusting of creatures, and once they are attracted it is extremely difficult to get rid of them. They also engage in violent behaviour towards smaller birds getting in their way with a famous manoeuvre known in the trade as the ‘wing-slap’.
Once upon a time it was legal to simply shoot them and throw them in the bin, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.
Pigeons will largely be deterred simply by using the feeder which I have described, but inevitably some food will fall and if allowed to build up, you will get a pigeon or two coming to gobble it up for you. One or two is all it takes! They will then start telling their friends in the neighbourhood about your special ledge, and you will very quickly have fifty or so pigeons vying for your food. It is a nightmarish situation, one which is best to avoid.
For that reason you must make sure to clean your window-ledge of any food every once in a while. Once every month or so suffices, and all it takes is a quick sweep up with a dustpan and brush.