The Hungry Gap

For some seed-eating species the next six to eight weeks are a critical period, the availability of natural food and food obtained from farmland stubble is at it’s lowest ebb and they are more reliant on supplementary feeding in our gardens. This late winter period particularly impacts species such as Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer as well as the more ubiquitous Dunnock.

Despite the current spell of warm weather these species will be having difficulty in finding food out  in the wider countryside and continuing to provide good quality food at garden feeders is a surefire way of helping them until they can switch to feeding on insects and spiders as Spring progresses.

As a garden bird feeder the Hungry Gap is one of those times where I have come to expect some of the scarcer species that visit my garden feeders to appear. Numbers of Chaffinches increase under my feeders throughout February and along with March they are the best months for me finding the odd Brambling amongst them. My theory is that these individual Bramblings are clearly around in the general area and get drawn into the garden by following the Chaffinches.

Both Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, very scarce birds at my garden feeders, have a tendency to turn up at my garden feeders during February and March, though Yellowhammers seem to need a late cold spell to push them into the garden. I’m always delighted to catch sight of either in the garden as I know they don’t hang around for long!

This time of year I often spread a little seed on the ground too, particularly a mix with small seeds as I know that our garden Dunnocks, and we get up to 10, are another species that will be finding it tough to find small seeds over the next few weeks. It’s not just the garden though where we can help our local bird populations. I have a dog and often walk in the local area, I make a point of popping a small bag of seed mix into my coat pocket and scattering a handful around the places I have seen Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers along the field margins and hedges. It may not bring these birds into my garden but I get great satisfaction later in the year finding a singing male or seeing a brood of youngsters in these same areas, knowing I may have helped the parents get through a tough period in better condition to face the breeding season ahead.

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Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.