Wildlife Wednesday – Messy Eaters!

At the beginning of December the crab apple tree beside the driveway was a magnificently laden affair. Whenever there was a touch of sunshine it became a glowing, amber symbol of abundance. And then the blackbirds moved in …


Female blackbird sizing up the harvest

Now, when I leave the house, I disturb at least 6 birds in the tree, sometimes as many as 10, gorging on soft, sweet apple pulp. Blackbirds are unashamedly messy eaters, as these photos show:

There is as much fruit on the ground as has been consumed and slowly but surely the branches are being laid bare. At this rate I expect that the apples will all be gone in the next few days. Then there will be more disappointed faces like this one!


When she got there … The cupboard was bare

However, watching the tree being stripped clean is one of the great pleasures of the winter. Some years, there are more exotic migrants, like fieldfares and redwings, joining in with the feasting, but strangely not this year, even though we see them using the fountain.

This is my favourite blackbird shot from the apple frenzy: A bright eyed example, with glossy, plaid feathers and the shadow of yet more apples across its breast.


Sunlight makes such a dramatic difference to the colours and patterns on their plumage. For instance, this is a greenfinch waiting in the wisteria for a go on the peanut feeder. Many of the photos I’ve taken over the last week or two look like this: some nice bokeh, but dull colours.


Greenfinch on a dull day

But look at him in the sunshine! Isn’t he glorious


Greenfinch in sunshine

Our feeders have been out for about a month now and they have rapidly been incorporated into the sunflower trawl that the finches carry out daily. Only three or four birds can use a feeder at one time, but the local goldfinch charm is a constantly changing, swirling cloud with individuals making a dive for gaps as the opportunities arise.


Goldfinch on the wisteria

The other large tribe of birds arriving in the garden for the feeders, both morning and afternoon, are the tits. I never fail to be entertained by the acrobatics of the long-tailed tits in particular. Here is one showing how dextrous it can be with its legs. It looks rather like he is acting in Hamlet!


Long-tailed tit … holding on with one leg whilst eating a peanut crumb from the other!

And this one is shaking his tail feathers:


Long-tailed tit showing its tail feathers

The last of the line of feeders across the  front of the pergola contains peanuts and is open to squirrel attack. (The rest are double layered to prevent that as much as possible.)


Black squirrel making for the hills

However, the last one is deliberately hung for the larger birds. A pair of jays have adopted it, using it constantly in tandem while it dispenses nuts. The problem is that they have hacked a hole into it at the bottom and they now retrieve whole nuts in quick succession, so it is depleted in the blink of an eye.


Jay … mouth full of whole peanuts

Beneath the nuts there is a whole different community, of cleaners: collared doves, chaffinches and dunnocks …


Dunnock looking for crumbs

And as of last week there is also a little mouse darting out to gather scraps. I am no good at mouse IDs unfortunately, but his white tummy makes him a field or wood mouse rather than a house mouse. Let’s hope he stays outside too.


I thought I would end this post with our first sighting of the little owl at Wimpole since spring. He was enjoying basking in the sunshine on his oak tree on Monday when we went for our traditional New Year’s Day walk (OK, it rained on Sunday). I ran back to take better photos, but he was gone. 😦


Little Owl – soaking up the rays

I am once again linking up with Tina @mygardenersays for Wildlife Wednesday and if you’ve never seen a Cooper’s hawk or Mockingbird you should definitely clink on the link to see her beautiful photos of them.


About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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34 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday – Messy Eaters!

  1. Tina says:

    Wow! You have so many lovely photos and birds–your blue and longtail tits are so cute and that little owl–oh my heart melted! So darling sitting in the V of that tree, though I suppose its prey doesn’t think it’s so darling. The jay is gorgeous too. Thanks for sharing your wildlife and surroundings!

    • Thanks Tina. I was so pleased to see the little owl again after such a long break. It is easier to pick him out without leaves on the trees of course, but he still does a good job of disguise!

  2. wood fairy says:

    black squirrrel?!! are you in the UK – wow I have never seen one (although I did have the honour of seeing a white one and blogged it to death once),, aren’t black ones rare? lovely pictures – I thought dormice should be asleep, they are such pretty little things.

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    I love seeing all your birds. The bullfinches are so colorful!

    • Especially with the magical sprinkling of sunlight. Happily there are a lot of birds around now to watch, but when the annual RSPB survey happens next month I am guessing that half will have disappeared !

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Our flock has thinned out since early Dec. I often wonder where they go (other bird feeders?) or worry that the frigid nights we’ve had suddenly catch them unprepared and they succumb to below zeroF temps. I’m hoping my neighbors bird feeders are the reason for it!

  4. Val says:

    Oh, they are indeed messy eaters, the blackbirds. The mouse looks like one we had on our patio a few weeks ago. I never did find out exactly what it was, often you can tell from the length of the tail and the size and set of the ears. Yours like ours looks sleepy.
    The greenfinch does look quite splendid in the sunlight. And you managed to catch a dunnock standing still long enough to have its photo taken! All lovely, as is your blog which I’ve been looking at and reading for the past hour!

    • Val, I am so pleased that you’ve enjoyed looking over my posts. I’ve still not had a confirmation ID from the iSpot guys at the Open University for that mouse, but you are right that you need to check ears, tails, nose profile and colours (which is hard from the shots I took) so I am sticking with ‘field mouse’. I am see from your last post that I am not the only one with greedy blackbirds! They are fun to watch aren’t they? Mine are now having to compete with a number of wood pigeons for their apples.

  5. Phlomis68-Volpinablu-Antonella says:

    So beautiful!!!

  6. Sue says:

    Wonderful photos, loved the feather pattern on the jay, we don’t have them in Australia. Wow, a black squirrel, how awesome! And that little owl is adorable. 🙂

    • Thanks Sue. Happily Eurasian jays are common around here and are wonderfully bright and noisy birds. The garden would feel completely different without them hopping around. Black squirrels aren’t that unusual in the East of England any longer. There has been a colony about 30 miles away (in Letchworth) for several decades and they are definitely spreading eastwards.

  7. What fun! And so interesting to see the birds that are different from ours. Love your pics of the mouse and owl too…great catch!

    • Thanks. Seeing the mouse was initally exciting, but I also know that something chews through our stored hammocks, rugs and grass seed in the garage! Living with nature can be problematic.

  8. Gillian says:

    I love all your photos Allison. We also have mixed flocks of tits visiting every afternoon for the sunflower seeds and within that flock there are more long tailed tits then we’ve had in previous years. Perhaps things are looking up for them.

  9. FlowerAlley says:

    What is the bird with the red mask and yellow wing tip? Where are you?

  10. FlowerAlley says:

    I did not see the owl until I read the comments and went back through to search for it. Super cute.

  11. Julie says:

    Lovely post Allison, I’m very envious of your visiting Jays and the Little Owl at Wimpole is so lovely, brilliant to see one pose like that. Lucky you!

    • Thanks Julie. We get a lot of magpies and jays here. They seem to thrive on all the road kill and farm land around! I was very happy to see the owl again, in the same tree, after such a long absence.

  12. Marvellous photos, our birds are so shy – maybe because of the cats- so it’s great to see the portraits you capture so beautifully. I really enjoyed your goldfinch post too – isn’t ‘charm’ a perfect word for them? I wonder what the collective noun would be for the adorable long tail tits ….

    • Ok … I looked that up ‘cos I was sure there would be a term and the answer is: ‘volery’. Not quite so precisely appropriate as ‘charm’ is it? We do get cats in the garden, but neither neighbour keeps them any longer … so that must help.

  13. Birds do tend to be messy eaters, I suppose not having hands doesn’t help. However, as you point out there are plenty of helpers ready to clean up their mess. Great pictures – your goldfinch and jay are much more colorful than ours.

  14. Wonderful but didn’t you save the best for last. How brilliant

  15. Brian Skeys says:

    We have a golden hornet crab Apple and the birds won’t touch it unless we have very cold weather. I always love to watch the birds feeding, it is one of the joys of having a garden.

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