There are two bird feeders in our back yard. Not long after we moved in, Gareth appointed himself chief caretaker. He treats the birds very well, tut-tutting when they spill the seed boxes or crap in their water dish.
We first got addicted to bird watching during the lazy days between Christmas and New Year. Much of the scant daylight hours were spent by the windows with a cup of tea and a running commentary on the feathered soap opera.
I tend to view the world through my stomach so I was worried about the consequences of feeding the birds. Were they being fed elsewhere? Did they need any more food? Would our abundant bird buffet tempt them to eat more than they needed? Were birds in tune with their hunger signals? Did they have the power to eat to the point of satiety then fly away? Can you tell I was reading a lot of intuitive eating books last year?
Anyway, as it turned out, "eat like a bird" means different things to different kinds of birds.
This little robin is called Benito. He is the undisputed boss of the garden.
Benito is not a big eater; he seems quite indifferent to the food. But he objects to anyone else getting their beaks on "his" stash. He likes to sit on a fence post and survey his domain with his shrewd little eyes, daring other birds to come mess with him. He doesn't care how big or small they are; he'll take 'em on. The other day an innocent green finch hopped onto a feeder and Benito swooped right down and shoulder-barged him off the perch! I know birds don't really have shoulders but it's the best way of describing the violence of the manoeuvre. I can relate to this kind of territorial behaviour, especially if roast potatoes or chocolate rations are involved.
This teeny guy is a blue tit. He's a bit of a grazer. He starts with a nibble of Fat Snax – crusty balls of lard, seeds and insects. Then he'll have a go of the peanuts and finish with a few seeds. He's very brief and dainty about it.
The blackbird is quite similar in eating style except he stays at ground level and adds worms to the mix.
This pheasant is a weirdo. Pheasants are like Scotland's small answer to kangaroos. If you go for a nice Sunday drive, they will wait for the precise moment you drive past to hurl themselves onto the road.
Our backyard specimen hangs around the table like a dog, hoping for scraps. Every now and then he'll gaze longingly up at the feeders and give his wings a half-hearted flap, but then decides he's better off just waiting for someone else to drop something.
Then there are the rooks. They are the teenage boys of the garden – noisy, unwieldy and hanging about in gangs.
They do a lot of skulking.
And a mega load of eating. They batter the feeders until they topple to the ground, then scoff scoff scoff 'til every last seed is gone. Teenage boys in cheesy commercials for bread or crumpets or whatnot, clattering into the kitchen after school. I'm staaaaarving Mum, what's to eat? Except here the rooks don't bother to ask and I'm shouting out the window, "Slow down and leave some for everyone else, you greedy glossy bastards!"
Would you cop a load of the beak on this fella?
My favourite bird is the wood pigeon. One pigeon in particular. His name is Eating Disorder Pigeon.
EDP has a hunger that can never be satisfied. He visits multiple times a day and doesn't graze or nibble. He just eats and eats and eats. One day I watched him while eating too many Caramel Digestive biscuits and, perhaps longing for a kindred spirit, I thought there might be a touch of the compulsive about him.
When he perches on the water dish on his tiptoes (tipclaws?), sticks his head into the little window, the rest of the world ceases to exist. Benito pesters and the rooks squark but EDP does not budge. Once I timed him and he munched for 40 minutes straight.
I shouldn't project my own issues onto an innocent wee bird, but just say he does have food issues, are we enabling him with this constant seedy smorgasbord?
Or perhaps it's perfectly normal consumption for a bird of his size. Maybe he just really loves his food. In that case, what will he do when we move house in May? It's not like he can take up kickboxing to fill the food-shaped void in his life. Then again we're not the only middle class saddos with bird feeders in this village, so I'm sure he won't go hungry…
Now look at this blue tit watching EDP tuck into the lard ball. One might say the angle of that little blue head is totally judgmental, but that would be paranoid!