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My birds are back in the garden!

Wednesday, 10th September 2014

Where did they go? The same place they go every year...
Like clockwork – usually early August – some of my birds disappear. The first year I spotted this departure, I took the moonlight flit personally; I changed the seed mix I was feeding, replaced the bird feeder and reprimanded the family cat for his boisterous behaviour which, incidentally, he didn’t mind as being confined to barracks allowed him a well earned rest. The birds, however, remained out of sight.   
 
“It’s the moult, they can hardly fly,” explained Bill Oddie. “They’ll be back before you know it!”
 
He was right; they were back before September.
 
“Why can’t they fly?” I asked.
 
“Well, young birds fledged not long ago, have only just started flying at all and they are still not very good at it. Whilst adult birds, their parents, are moulting. They have been racing around catching caterpillars, squeezing in and out of a nest hole, so they are worn to a frazzle, and feathers are in a right old tangle. Some birds are almost bald, or have lost their tails. What they need is a complete change of feathers. So, the old ones fall out and new ones grow. They don’t all fall out a once, not like a plucked chicken, but in a certain sequence.”
 
“Whilst the wing feathers are moulting they can’t fly very well, maybe not at all. So they go into hiding. Deep in or under thick bushes or undergrowth. So do the youngsters. They won’t reveal their whereabouts by singing either. So, the garden goes quiet and apparently empty and people ask: “where have all my birds gone?” And I say: Don’t worry, they’ll be back, and they will be looking much smarter. And they’ll be hungry; it takes a lot of energy this moulting.”
 
I now consider their absence as a sign that autumn is on its way. The lukewarm breeze cannot disguise the fact that daylight is slipping out through the back door and brushing – as it whisks away – past the first trees that for some reason are happy to give up their frosting of leaves.
 
Autumn is coming, ready or not!
 
I’m swapping to extra high-energy seeds to give the birds a warm welcome. Suet’s back on the menu today and the cat’s licence to roam has once again been revoked. He won’t mind, though.
 
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