They Came For The Peanuts And Found The Fat Balls

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A war of attrition with birds of varying feathers in Slightly Bemused’s garden

Slightly Bemused writes:

My crows did not turn up today. Rather unusual. I tried asking them when I saw them on the green later in the day, but they did not answer. They were poking around one of the areas where the teenagers had gathered, so I took that to mean crisps or even chips may have been had, and bits of food treasure were to be sought among the blades of grass.

And therein lay my answer. Starlings. I have been putting out fat balls for the little birds that live in my hedge, and my brambles and my thorns and nettles. I was told not to put out seed, as it may stop the little ones from foraging.

Wait until there is no fruit on the brambles, I was instructed. The fat balls help them when they are nesting, and as their young grow. I tried putting out peanuts, but that did not work. Actually, that was an eye opener. And a feeder opener.

I have a pole with curly arms for hanging out the feeders. The curls are supposed to keep the feeders from falling off. But those dastardly crows figured out how to lift the feeder off and drop them to the ground. All the easier to access them. The pigeons like to perch on the upper arms and poop all over everything below. Really, they have no manners!

I used to have a washing line strung across the garden where I would hang my washing in the summer, and in winter occasionally feeders. Unfortunately the pigeons would perch above my freshly washed duds, and poop. Making the whole fresh air smell pointless.

I bought a new peanut feeder. Last winter’s one was beyond redemption and in any case had provided years of good service. The one I bought, for all it had a metal mesh cylinder, to be honest it was cheap, and cheaply made. The crows landed on it. At first this was fine, but when the big lad arrived, his weight proved too much, cheap plastic split, and the feeder plummeted to the ground, lid spilling and a bounty of legumic delicacy spilt over the grass.

I bought a newer feeder, one more robust. I had hopes. Oh foolish me. I filled it up, hung it up and came back in for my 20th hand washing of the day (or so it seemed). And as I looked out my window above the sink I watched as the crows gathered, and deftly two of them together lifted the feeder up and around the curly bits and dropped it to the grass below.

It took a few attempts, but it was clear they knew what they were doing, and worked as a team. The big lad then dropped like a stone onto the mesh cylinder. After a few dive bombs, the cylinder collapsed, and the lid popped off. So much for sturdier.

The problem was that this largesse of peanut loveliness attracted a couple of somewhat unwelcome guests. Rats, and I will talk about them later, and starlings. I have rarely had to deal with starlings in my previous feeding, as they would mostly have already fled for warmer climes when I was looking to keep the little ones nourished through the winter. And starlings do not come in ones and twos. Anyone who has seen a murmuration will know that. Nope they come in flocks! They came for the peanuts, and found the fat balls.

The fat balls are in a different type of feeder, one with an outer cage so only smaller birds can get in. Actually designed to keep squirrels out, starlings are too large. But not uninventive. Or uncooperative.

They could get their heads in, and would peck at the fat balls, dropping morsels below, where others would feast. Then, the ones above would swap out, and the ones below would take up pecking duty. In full spate, they can empty the feeder in about 10 minutes, leaving only crumbs for the little ones and the pigeons.

The crows, clever divils that they are, figured out how to open the lid of the feeder, so filling it full invites a fairly short time before the top ball has been snarfed and wings its way to a nest, or eyrie, or tower somewhere to be shared.

Crows are surprisingly generous among themselves, but will censure any who do not share when they find caches of food. When the boss man arrives, the others will hop back until some signal tells them they may now come and feed. The bickering is always amongst the younger ones.

Oh, and crows really do not like magpies, or rats. The magpies are gluttons, I am not sure what their beef is with the rats. There are about 3 species of crows that frequent my garden: ravens, hooded crows and rooks. For all that magpies are also corvids, they are not welcome.

As I mentioned earlier, the peanut harvest on the sward brought in some unwelcome guests. Now, I knew they were there, my house butts onto a ditch, and the local lawn tennis club which plays on tarmac is beyond that. For all its urban designs, the town is still very rural, and ditches hide a million secrets, some of whom are rats.

But you can deter them. You can put down poison but that risks onward poisoning of those that prey on them, including housecats and small terriers, and owls. There are foods which they will not like and will keep them away. But to entice them, you have to make the nasty taste nice at first. Coating with peanut butter is recommended.

So today, I coated pellets with peanut butter. I hate peanut butter more than I dislike fish, and this tub was now no longer safe for human consumption. While I have put down the deterrent pellets for now, still the peanut butter is not okay. So it was with a feeling of joy that I pulled out my permanent marker and wrote POISON on the lid and jar.

I love peanuts, just not peanut butter. And Little Slightly had this irrational love of celery stalks filled with the stuff. Argh! At least her food was safe from me.

But likely not from starlings, who leave nothing behind such that even crows don’t come back.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday

All pics by Slightly

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14 thoughts on “They Came For The Peanuts And Found The Fat Balls

  1. Janet, dreams of an alternate universe

    Wednesday already !
    I have lovely yellow tits gobbling up my fat balls, they are just outside the office window, very soothing

    1. Tony

      I love the sight of tits enjoying my fat balls down the end of my back passage where they’re safe from next door’s pussy

    2. Slightly Bemused

      Lovely!

      If they are about the size of a robin, with a black stripe down their chests they could be great tits. If smaller and no bar, they might be bluetits.

  2. goldenbrown

    I had been putting those fat balls out for a while, properly hung, no way I thought they could be comprimised by the larger birds that hang about on street corners. then they started disappearing…including the little nets they come in…long story short ended up being a pair of grey bstrd trapeze artist squirrels who walked along an adjacent phone cable to get within range for a very impressive leap/grab final act and away with the goods!

    1. Slightly Bemused

      You should check out some videos on YouTube of a group of guys in the US who make obstacle courses for squirrels. They truly are incredible acrobats

  3. eamonn

    Saw a rat negotiating their way into my birdfeeder too, all via branches, from tree to tree, not a paw on the ground. like a tightrope artist, It used to visit morning and evening.
    Watched it for two or three days, until the cat noticed it too, it took some serious feline acrobatics to take him out.
    The cat always wins in those scenarios. Although the rats are never eaten, the cat seems to prefer them as prey over birds which are usually reduced to feathers and legs once the cat gets to grips with them.

    1. millie bobby brownie

      My cat is much the same. We had a rat problem in the estate when we moved into our current house. The cat took great delight in hunting them and leaving them in the garden as a gift/warning.
      The birds, she devours. Except when she’s feeling affectionate, and leaves a tiny, perfectly-cleaned bird organ (heart possibly? I honestly don’t know) on the back step as a present for us. She tends to be very smug afterwards.

  4. GiggidyGoo

    Gave up putting fat balls out. The Crows were far too clever, removing the holder from the feeding stand, and dropping it on the ground. They’re really worth watching in action, lifting the feeders off the stand etc.
    Gave up the seeds too, as they only attracted rats.
    So, nuts only now.
    Have a woodpecker visiting daily. The smaller birds won’t go near the feeder when he’s around, but they wait underneath as woodie is a messy eater.

    1. Tony

      Your woodie would be welcome to make a mess in my back passage. So long as he doesn’t mind squeezing in between the tits to enjoy my fat balls

      Can I just say this is the best thread ever

  5. Verbatim

    Lovely article Bemused… The fascinating world of birds which I’ve just discovered. My new next-door neighbour attracts them to his garden with food (I often wonder what he actually offers) because there are loads of them. I get the tail end and they are a delight, starlings, wood pigeons, goldfinches, robins little sparrows.
    I remember as a teenager complaining that the birds chirping woke me up (from my hangovers)!

    1. Slightly Bemused

      I am glad you enjoyed it

      I must admit I love listening to the dawn chorus. I try to get up and watch the sun rise, and that is a good alarm clock.

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