Spot the Birdie.

 There was a little discussion on Grandad's site last week (One for the birds – Head Rambles) about how versatile and intelligent some birds could be.  I had added a comment about birds enjoying cat baiting as a spectator sport at the bottom of our garden: "They are smart though Grandad. We heard a racket at the bottom of our garden years ago, loads of small birds chirping in what sounded like excitement. When we went to look, there were loads of sparrows, blue tits etc (at least 30, possibly more), all as high in the canopy as possible. Below them, much lower, and in complete silence was a magpie, carefully monitoring a cat that was a few steps behind it. Every time the cat moved, the magpie enticed it further and further up the tree. This went on for half an hour or so until the cat was on tiny branches that were much too small for it, where one eventually broke, and the cat fell (with no apparent harm). The audience of small birds were there the whole time calling their support. It was amazing to watch. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a video camera at the time."

This bird was about 18 inches away when I snapped this.

A little extra detail is worth mentioning.  The picture below was taken at the café of Mount Stewart (a National Trust site on the Ards Peninsula).  A number of species have become so brave/ tame that they deliberately come and sit on the nearest seat to scrounge food.  I have noticed that different species will take different levels of risk.  Chaffinches for example will stay on the ground 3 or 4 feet away and will fly off momentarily if you throw crumbs in their direction.  The same behaviour can be seen in birds such as Blackbirds and Sparrows.  Great Tits, as in the photo will beseech you to feed them from nearby chairs and tables and will then come to your table to pick up their reward before moving onto things like the butter wrapper in the photo.

Robins are undoubtedly the bravest of the lot.  A number of the ones at Mount Stewart will even take food from your hand.  I have found it impossible to photograph this though, so the photo here will have to suffice.  There is even one that comes inside the café and hops around the floor picking up crumbs.  But here is the ultimate sign of how cheeky they are.  The café staff tell me that there is one robin who comes in the morning and taps on the window to be let in.  The staff then give him breakfast.

There is one thing I worry about in this behaviour.  The last time we ate at the seats outside this café, someone had left some proper bird food in small patches around the edge of the seating area, yet the birds ignored it and seemed to prefer human food like scones.  Birds with a sweet tooth perhaps?


  1. Hi Ian,
    We don't have European robins in NZ but the sparrows are the same chancers and come inside cafes on the scrounge. At home, Californian Quail in flocks over 20 congregate outside our patio doors demanding feeding. They know we keep bird seed to supplement their winter diet. They're tame enough to step inside if the doors are open. We discourage that as they are inclined to poop on the carpet. We've got some great photos of them demonstrating with us!

  2. Sounds like good entertainment Geoff. We have a couple of Blackbirds nesting in our hedges at the moment, and a Bluetit in a nest box at the side of the garage. Generally, we don't give them much when they nest since we are uncertain if even things like currants would be good for the chicks? Like you, what we generally do is provide a few supplements in the winter. On a couple of rare occasions we have been lucky enough to watch the chicks emerge, which again seems to become a spectator sport for all the other small birds.


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