Friday, 08 April 2016 18:27

Red heads, murders and massacres?

I feed the birds (despite the resultant rat threat) and I love watching them in my garden though I am not a bona fide ‘twitcher”. And, as you know from a previous blog, I have nursed Bob, a fledgling starling, to release.

Moving here from London has changed my bird environment somewhat - no more parakeets, lots more Buzzards, a fair few Red Kites and hundreds of crows in the oak trees in my view are the major differences.

All the usual garden suspects I had in London turn up here (Robins, every type of Tit, Blackbirds, Sparrows, Wrens, Starlings, Goldfinches etc) but the new ones I have seen a great deal of include the beautifully coloured Chaffinches, the ragged looking Pied Wagtails and the shy, elegant, colourful Nuthatches.

Then, in mid January this year, I was visited by four Lesser Redpolls. To begin with, when I saw the blushed breast, I was worried I had a bleeding sparrow on the feeder but then I saw the red scull cap and knew it was something different.

They are small birds that, at first glance, look like little sparrows but when you see their rosy breasts and red caps you know they are something different. And they are full of spirit. They love the Nyger seed I put out for the Goldfinches and they will fight off the much larger Goldfinch to keep their position on the feeder.

I have also had Siskin and woodpecker feeding but they are very shy and I have not yet caught either on camera.

Last year I saw many Buzzards around here but one day I had a “special encounter” with one. I was driving out of my house and around the Common that fronts it when a Buzzard got up from the ground (no prey in its claws) and flew alongside my car, at driver side window level, his wing tip just centimetres from the window for about five seconds. Those five seconds seemed much longer. His head was turned toward me and I could look into his eyes, see his beak and fully appreciate his beauty and power in mind-blowing close-up. It was an amazing, unrepeatable moment – and luckily there was no car coming in the other direction! I spent the next few minutes as I drove on to Shaftesbury just saying “wow, wow, wow!”

I have also witnessed two smallish Starling murmurations over the commons in the village (an amazing sight) and recently a similar show from hundreds of crows. I don’t know what a synchronised Crow flying display is called. Given they are a murder in the plural might it be a “massacre”?

However, I have a bird problem in the garden. The West side of the new greenhouse is a bird killer. I don’t know if the old one on the same site was too but my gorgeous new greenhouse caused at least five bird deaths in 2015. That’s five two many in my book.

For example, last summer a gorgeous Nuthatch crashed into the glass of the front door. It survived but I had to stand around to keep dogs, cats and hawks at bay for about 45 minutes until eventually it was able to fly away. Then a few weeks later it (or another one) did the same and was killed instantly. I can’t tell you how desperately sad-making it is to put such a beautiful bird in the bin.

A Nuthatch on the feeder

A Goldfinch and a Sparrow have been killed in the same way. And most spectacularly, one Summer afternoon last year as I sat on the terrace chatting with a friend, there was a huge swoosh followed by a very loud, sickening thud. A young Sparrow Hawk had caught a baby woodpecker on the wing but then crashed into my greenhouse door glass. The Sparrow Hawk was killed on impact but the baby woodpecker was still alive. I tried to keep it warm and save it but sadly it died a few hours later. I guess the needle pointed talons of the Sparrow Hawk (they are unbelievably sharp) may have already done their damage internally. Or it died of shock. Whichever, the loss of the baby woodpecker was very saddening.

I have to admit I was less worried about the death of the song-bird-killing Sparrow Hawk (though the older I get the less I can bear the death of anything) and I put the beautiful hawk specimen in the deep freeze because I have a local artist friend who works with birds (mostly dead ones) and I thought she might want it.

It spent about three months there, visited by a huge number of local children who admired it and stroked its amazingly soft feathers (which were unaffected by the deep freeze) until my artist friend eventually claimed it. It’s a bit weird having a dead Sparrow Hawk amongst the frozen peas, chips and ice cream but I coped. This is the countryside after all.

So, since these very unpleasant occasions last year, I have been investigating ways to stop the greenhouse from killing birds. This is a new problem I have never had to deal with before and which is very troubling.

Initially I thought the birds flew into the glass because they saw their favourite tree the other side of it and thought they could fly it. But apparently (from research online) I understand it is to more to do with reflection - they think what is behind them is also in front of them ie they have a clear flight path.

So, on to trusty Google and Amazon I went to find a solution. At some expense I bought some window film, like stained glass windows, from Artscape, which I put up earlier this year. It's attractive, in a magnolia pattern, but it is now too dark inside the greenhouse.  I can’t see out into the garden and I am anyway not convinced that it stops the windows doing the reflection thing.

So early this year I took most of it down and bought some special film patches that are "especially designed to stop bird strikes". They are also from Artscape and called "Birds Eye view" window film patches.  They are easily available in the USA but in the UK you have to hunt harder and go to a very special site on Amazon if you want to buy them in Pounds Sterling. The link is

They are massively simple to install and really quite attractive as you can see below. I shall report on their effectiveness through 2016. I pray they work. I want no more birds to die in my garden or to be killed by my greenhouse. So far none has been.

 And this is what they look like. Much less intrusive than the full-scale, patterned film (which you can see I have left at the edges of the greenhouse) in case. Apparently the texture and pattern make something in birds' eyes that tells them there is an object in their flight path. And you don't neeed many per metre of glass. I have over-done it for sfety's sake but only one of these patches should work for all the glass on the greenhouse end.