Saturday, November 25, 2006

Going into the garden

I'm not keen on worms. I don't have anything against them, but I prefer that they just stay nice and snug in the earth and I don't have to have actually meet them so to speak. I certainly prefer not to touch them . But just lately I've been dealing with large numbers of meal worms and have shocked several visitors to the house by have a plastic bowl full of meal worms soaking in warm water beside my sink.

The reason? I don't like worms much but I do love robins. And robins love mealworms. Perhaps I should mention that these mealworms are not live ones. They are freeze dried mealworms for feeding to robins and blue tits and other lovely birds to keep them well and happy during the winter.

My mother always said that she believed a home that had its own 'resident robin' would be a very happy home. Robins are very territorial and they defend their area ferociously. We may have four cats, but they don't usually get the robins - something for which I'm very grateful.
But the robins do have one great enemy - the magpies.

Magpies are beautiful birds - elegant in black and white but they bird assassins - those long, fierce beaks of theirs are lethal - they stab their victims with them and usually one attack is all it needs. One of the most frightening and nasty things I ever saw was a magpie fight where a pair of birds had obviously intruded into another magpie's territroy - it was bloody, brutal and savage. So late last winter when I found a dead robin on the lawn, the fact that it was totally unmangled told me that the magpies had got it. A cat would have chewed, ripped, certainly it would not have left ever feather intact.

So I was saddened by the thought that our resident robin had been killed. But in the spring, in one of the flower beds, I found the two halves of the distinctive blue-green egg that robins lay. And two halves meant that a baby robin had hatched - I hoped.

I was right. Last weekend the BM was digging in the garden, turning over the soil around the raspberry bushes and a very bright-eyed and healthy young robin appeared. He found a huge worm that had been unearthed, tugged and tugged on it until he got it whole from the soil and then he flew off to enjoy his meal in peace. So we have a new young resident robin. And the meal worms are there to keep him happy when the ground is too hard and the worms buried too deep for him to find.
Unfortunately we also have the magpies - a pair of them who live in the big Scots Pine tree at the far end of the garden. The magpies get to enjoy the suet and nut cakes that I put out on an old tree stump that act as a birdtable - and the robinas who prefer to feed on the ground get soaked mealworms in a quiet corner all to themselves. After all, if the magpies are full of suet and nuts, hopefully it will keep them from atacking the robin.

Robins are said to be the souls of loved ones who have died and who had come back to visit. SO if that's the case they're even more welcome. Magpies on the other hand are said to be the most arrogant of birds - birds who got their distinctive colouring from refusing to were full mourning when Christ died. They're also remembered in the rhyme

One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss.

So we're lucky because we have a nesting pair and when we see them they are usually together - so that's for joy.

And it only one of them appears? Well, apparently you can ward off the 'sorrow' and the bad omens by saluting and greeting them. So, although I'd claim I'm not superstitious, I'll usually salute pretty smartly and say 'Good day Mr Magpie!' - just in case. The only time I didn't do that was when I was a small child and we were driving to Wales - a long way from Yorkshire. I spotted a magpie - so 'Oh look, that's one for sorrow.' Immediately there was a loud bang and the car's engine stopped dead.

So better safe than sorry.


Anonymous said...

Kate...I touch wood, spit, salute, say hello, touch green and would turn around only I normally forget that bit when I see one magpie. It's exhausting and I can be found like a loon in the middle of a walk, waiting patiently too see another magpie if there's only one. There's also the get out clause rhyme: See one on flight, two in sight...!
xx Daisy/Abby

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

I'm waay behind on my blog reading.
I love robins too. I've yet to see one since we moved house, but I have seen plenty of magpies - p'raps that's the reason :-(.
Glad to hear you have a resident robin again.

Sue :-)

Heather Gorringe said...

Hello Kate
I'm sorry you dont like worms...just to let you know that your dried mealworms are fine through the winter but if the pair breed, the only food the fledglings eat is livefood, so at that point you may want to move on to the real live thing as it were. Live mealworms are packed with protein, fat and even more essentially for young birds - water. Wiggle on. Heather

Anonymous said...

CarolC said..

Fascinating post Kate. After a disaster when a wild cat attacked a pigeon in front of my distressed toddler, I abandoned the bird feeding for a while. But coming back to cold weather I've started filling the feeder again. We get loads of robin redbreasts, yellow tits (I think they're called), sparrows and ingenious squirrels who manage to crack the 'squirrel free' feeder.

I love watching the activity, the birds breakfast time coincides with ours and it's so delightful.

Kate Walker said...

Daisy - I might know you'd be riddled with superstitions - it's the Irish blood that has me this way too.

Hi Sue - perhaps you could encourage a robin into your garden with a nice feast of mealworms - but on the ground not on a bird table or anything

Hello Heather and welcome. Thanks for the info on the need for realworms (or should that be real meal worms?) in the spring. I don't usually put out the worms except in winter - there is plenty of food to be found in the garden for the nesting season. I hope I'll see young Mr Robin out foraging for some nestlings then

Carol - that's the problem with cats and birds - they don't mix well! I hate it when one of my furry gang get a bird even though I know it's only nature.But it is wonderful to watch the birds come to a feeder - I hang up fat balls from a tree so the birds get to them but the cats don't get the birds. And yes, we had a clever squirrel who worked out how to get into the squirrel proof feeder.

Anonymous said...

I am sending this email with no intent other than to inform

I just spent the scariest week of my life with breathing shortness ( I could barely walk to the next room without
running out of breath)

Turns out I had a severe and COMMON allergic reaction to my sons mealworm farm.
We have kept mealworms for about a month to not only feed my sons lizards, but to compliment
the sunflower seeds, thistle, suet and other seeds we feed wild birds in our yard.

After 3 hospital visits,
I was properly diagnosed and treated with steroids, I am still a bit short of breath
but improving.

I should note, I do not have asthma, and have never smoked.

Tonight I am doing research on this and find it very common

I also found your website stating mealworms are a good food item for birds.

I am not sure I am ready to set out on a campaign to educate the world.

But, I felt when I saw you website I owed it to people to at least share this info. with someone.

You may want to read
or search Google for mealworm allergy or mealworm asthma

Its up to you if you pass this info. along to anyone.
I feel better knowing I have shared it.

No need to reply back


Jon Van Buren
Fax 651-638-2221


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