A good time to start planning
As you all know I love chickens. They are lovely creatures, very sociable too, at least once they’ve established a pecking order. We now have just one chicken left, Tufty, the others have sadly succumbed to a very contagious virus.
She isn’t lonely though! When I let her out in the morning she quickly joins the neighbours’ flock to spend the day frolicking with them, returning at night to sleep in her own coop. I always thought chickens would flock together no matter what time of day, but apparently coming back to our place at night is so much part of her routine that she would rather return to us alone, than go off with the others. I was watching them from the house the other day, and as soon as it started to get dark, I could see our neighbours’ chickens heading off in one direction, our other neighbours’ lone white hen heading off in another and our wee Tufty slowly trotting back to us! It was almost as if she was saying to the others: ‘Goodnight and I will see you again tomorrow!’
Come spring we will be getting 5 more ex-battery hens to keep her company - goodness knows what she’ll make of that!
Winter is always a good time to start planning what I’m going to grow, sow or plant in spring or summer. So, I would like to share with you some ideas on the types of plants to grow which are particularly beneficial to birds. You can even eat some of them yourself!
Plants and shrubs for birds:
Blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum), for example, are not only tasty for humans, but your local blackbird population loves them too! Just make sure that if you are picking some for yourself, remember to leave enough to feed the birds!
Or what about growing some sunflowers? Not only do they look pretty, you could hold a contest with other family members or your neighbours to see who can grow the tallest! First the bees will be busy feeding on the flowers, and then in autumn, many bird species will eat the seeds. Bistort (Bistorta officinalis) is also good to grow and you can make Easter ledge pudding with the leaves, something I am going to do once the plant has grown back its leaves. Or sorrel (Rumex acetosa), the leaves of which you can add to salads in spring to give them an acidic twist and the seeds will be eaten by bullfinches later in the year.
For the rarer, more exotic birds, plants like fennel (tasty seeds, which can aid digestion in humans), golden rod (Solidago) and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) will attract siskins, finches, linnets, warblers and chiffchaffs. I have even seen a teasel being raided by a couple of goldfinches! And you can use the teasel seed head to brush your own hair or your pets’ hair! It leaves it feeling nice and soft!
Planting shrubs is also a good idea; it provides cover, nesting sites and food. Go for any of these: barberry (Berberris thunbergii), cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) or elderberry (Sambucus). Birds like thrushes and blackbirds will feed on the berries these shrubs produce during autumn time.
I have planted almost all of these variety of shrubs and flowers myself and not only do I use the leaves as early green vegetables, I have also helped attract lots of different species of birds to my garden. For example this reed bunting pictured on the right, and since last year we now have house sparrows back in the Glen again too!