Thought for food
Thought for food
Last week we spent a couple of days visiting family in Wales where grandson Sam told us an interesting story. His work in the garden was disturbed by an insistent tapping – not the rhythmic flourish of the great spotted woodpecker, more sharp and spasmodic. Looking round, he located the source: about 100yds away a nuthatch was busy around gatepost. More watching and a closer look revealed what was happening. The bird flew to and fro till it had accumulated a little heap of hazel nuts and small acorns on the ground below a thick strut leaning against the post; next, taking one at a time, it wedged them into a diagonal crack in the wood; then it went down the line shattering the shells and eating the contents and then off again to collect more. Sam showed me the line of empty shells firmly arranged in a neat row in the grip of the crack. We knew nuthatches had developed this trick of opening nuts, but what impressed us all was the systematic way the task was organised – like a cook preparing a meal! Apparently nuthatches also store food in this way, cleverly hiding the completed line of nuts and acorns with a covering of moss until needed.
Judging by the number of large acorns thudding onto our lawn, oak trees have had a productive season. Good news for the squirrels that are already busy garnering the crop and stashing it in the lawn, the flower-beds and our assortment of pots and tubs. This is also the time when jays visit our garden to take advantage of the same bounty. They carry off the acorns to a more secluded spot to cache. Contrary to popular belief, they are very good at remembering where each hoard is hidden. In fact the part of a jay’s brain concerned with location memory is especially large. Apparently this is also true of London cabdrivers – or was till the advent of Sat Nav!
A less obvious hoarder is the coal tit – that tiniest of the tit family with the black head and startling white stripes at eye and nape. They are very busy at the moment – zipping into the seed-feeder, seizing a seed and darting off to hide it. They are probably responsible for the fine stand of sunflowers that appeared in our bay-tree tub this summer.
Another way to prepare for winter – and one that we humans often inadvertently adopt – is to put on weight. This strategy allows animals to shut down completely for the winter – like hedgehogs – or cut down on their activities to avoid the worst of the weather, like badgers or indeed those hungry squirrels. Or, of course, you can just go somewhere warmer like the swallows, martins and many warblers which are already on their way south.
Luckily for us birdwatchers, to many species the UK is south, and we are now on the look out for our winter visitors, the swans and geese flying over, or the great flocks of winter thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, which give colour to our winter here in Wharfedale.