Legend has it that Noah saved a breeding pair of every animal on earth from the deluge… which would have been a dangerously small gene pool of course. Nevertheless, I can attest that an ark is responsible for preventing a local extinction in my corner of this crowded county. By the way, my corner is really, really small. Some people will have lounges larger than my tiny ‘yard’. The ark responsible is ArkWildlife who supply me with the feed that has seen my garden visitors grow exponentially.
When I moved to this house in the coastal southeast, over two decades ago, we had a pretty healthy population of chirpy house sparrows. Hawkeye (chief bird spotter and feeder – my job is ID) says there was a regular count of 16 sparrows coming into see what we were offering in a concrete ‘room’ with a tiny border. Over the years we stuffed the space with plants in containers of every shape and size. Latterly, we have ripped up the pavers and created a wildlife pond, woodstack corner, and raised beds to enable our aging bones ease of planting. Until this year’s hothouse madness it’s been lush and colourful and increasingly attractive to pollinators.
Despite it becoming an oasis a few birds have not been seen for several years… the regular greenfinches disappeared five years ago and the odd visit now is a red-letter day, the same is true of the song thrush, sorely missed as we don’t use chemicals here and if we are to save plants from the teeming hoards of snails their despatch has to be by human hand (or sometimes shoe) intervention. It would be so much nicer to hear the tap tap of a song thrush winkling a snail from its shell… luckily the frogs keep down the softer young snails.
We’ve lost birds, but we do have the new regulars of goldfinches and woodpigeons which are now a familiar sight in most gardens. If you don’t have the former, the trick is to put out nyger – once that attracts the goldfinches they will include you on their itinerary, even if you switch to other seeds, they will keep coming.
But it isn’t just variety that diminished… two garden stalwarts, House Sparrows and Starlings went into steep decline. At the nadir we had just six spadgers and four starlings regularly turning up. Its hard to tell individuals of course, but we are pretty sure that these were the same individuals throughout the day… which is evidenced by more recent changes.
We switched feed companies a few years back and now rely on Ark Wildlife for all our supplies. Fatballs are still eaten, but more slowly because we started using ArkWildlife’s variety of suet pellets. They disappear so fast it almost looks like the feeders are leaking! Their ‘Flutter Butter’ jars of especially formulated peanut butter (so added salt) is the exclusive domain of starlings… nothing else gets a look in once they spot each new jar. As for the suet, if the starling bullies are about nothing gets a look in apart from the cheeky sparrows. The sunflower hearts are fair game to everything but especially Hawkeye’s ‘lads’, as she terms the spadgers. They too will touse the suet. When the bullies and lads have eaten their fill income the Goldfinches sticking to the sunflower hearts feeders like glue. I’ve regularly seen them falling asleep on the feeder perch when they are stuffed to the breast feathers.
In summer, after the last breeding season in came the bullies… all 94 of them! Three quarters were in the beige livery of juveniles, all squabbling over their places on the Ark!
As for the lads… a few more than that low of six, or even the pre-decline sixteen. Yesterday Hawkeye counted the lads waiting in the ceanothus and mock orange bushes… no less than 86! Thanks Ark Wildlife!