What am I to do with ‘Hank the Tank’?!
For starters, she really thinks she is a tank and won’t move out of the way even for an approaching car - mine! This makes getting to work a bit of a hassle.

Hank the Tank
December 2020

Secondly… she refuses to eat the chicken pellets we feed her. No, she only wants the more expensive, much tastier food our neighbours’ feed their chickens with. So, every morning she shouts at me for not opening the outdoor run fast enough, so she can run off to our neighbours’ house in time for breakfast! Other times she gets back at me by defiantly standing in front of the car as I start the engine. Even with the motor running she refuses to budge! Brave or stupid, I’m not quite sure which!

We gave each of our hens a name when we first got them based on their different personalities, and ‘Hank The Tank’s name couldn’t be more apt; she also has a low pitched voice, much deeper than the other chickens that is really quite funny when you hear it.

The two white ones, Helga and Hannah, normally run off too as soon as they are let out of the coup. Hannah really likes being petted, though and she’ll squat down as soon as she sees you coming. Then there is Hetty, I’m pretty sure she waits for our red car to pull up and then comes running over to greet me, clever wee thing.

Contrary to what you might think, watching chickens is not all I do, you know. I also like watching the other birds in my garden too!

For my Biology study this term, I had to do an experiment that involved rolling hundreds of little red and yellow dough balls and counting how many birds ate each particular colour. Would they have a preference for eating red or yellow balls? Previous studies have shown that birds do indeed prefer to eat a particular colour, but you guessed it, mine didn’t care what colour the balls were and just scoffed the lot! I poured over all the data I collected, and concluded that the birds in my garden didn’t appear to have a preference… just my luck! Of course there are no right or wrong answers when investigating behaviour in animals - you just cannot predict what they will do!

Anyway, I was observing our local bird population (consisting mainly of blue tits, great tits, coal tits and chaffinches) when a larger bird came flying overhead, swooped down and landed on the overhead power cables. It was a kestrel. It started squawking or whatever it is kestrels do. What happened next was pretty cool to see: all at once the little birds flew off, hiding amongst the shrubs. Everything went eerily quiet. Unfortunately, one little blue tit didn’t fly away from the bird feeder fast enough (stay with me, the story has a happy ending!), and sat completely and utterly still, paralysed for a full 5 minutes! You know how lively tits can be, so seeing this one sitting so still and quiet was very unusual. After a few minutes it slowly moved its head to look around and when it decided the coast was clear again, it didn’t fly off - but continued eating! This was such a nice example of a defence mechanism in action and I’m glad I was there to witness it.

Last year wasn’t the best year for growing vegetables and JP and I have already started eating our stored and pickled vegetables. We would normally start eating these from January and they normally last us until the end of February, after which time we could go out and pick some weeds and start eating leafy vegetables from the greenhouse again. Just as well the supermarkets are still open! What I found particularly worrying was there seems to have been a lot less pollinators last summer, despite all our wild flowers and places for bees to hibernate. Or maybe the local bird population did have a preference for what they ate after all - bees!

In previous newsletters I’ve mentioned that I leave a patch of my garden completely untouched and just let nature do its thing. Well, two little pine trees and a little shrub have self-seeded in that area, lots of different wild flowers too. I also leave the seed heads and one morning I spotted 8 (!) goldfinches feasting on them! Can you spot them all in this picture? It just shows how important it is to leave some areas of your garden uncut, unmanaged and untouched. If I had my way, I would like to inspire everyone to leave a tiny area (or a large area if you dare) undisturbed and watch how nature goes about reclaiming it - I’m sure you’ll be amazed!

Maybe something to add to your New Year’s resolutions for 2021??

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