So this is who's dirtying the bird bath!
Those of us who regularly feed our garden birds are acutely aware of the importance of offering garden visitors clean and fresh water. To that end, we all keep a close eye on birdbaths that all too often become polluted with leaves and other autumnal detritus at this time of year. So we could do without the involvement of one of the garden’s largest and most intelligent visitors, the Magpies, doing their best to dirty the water even more!
Magpies visit the garden frequently regardless of the time of year, but as the nights get longer and the food supply begins to dry up, they spend more and more time visiting the bird table and rummaging around on the floor to see what they can find to eat. Being omnivorous, the choice on offer is many and varied, but it is when they find foods that are stale and dry that their intelligence is put to good use.
As many people will have witnessed, Magpies will soak dry food in bird baths before eating it. As a result, the water becomes fetid quicker than ever. And for anyone thinking, don’t moan, just don’t put dry food out for them; it’s worth pointing out that our Magpies bring their own takeaways to the garden. Maybe our garden is the only one in the local area to have a birdbath or two. I’m not sure, but they seem quite happy to use the facilities to make their food more palatable – or easier to swallow.
It is fascinating to think that at some point in time, one Magpie has come up with this sort of behaviour to sort out this problem; that in itself is quite an achievement. But in addition, other Magpies have seen this, learned the technique and then tried it out for themselves. We are all aware that young birds learn from their parents, but to see this type of problem-solving being carried out in your own garden is great to see.
It shouldn’t (and probably doesn’t) come as a surprise to many that these birds use their well-documented intelligence in this way to find a solution to this problem. Still, if nothing else, it does mean that we have to keep an eye on the water even more than usual. That, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, as all of the birds that use it benefit.
With colder weather on its way, no doubt we are going to have to regularly defrost the birdbaths before any of the birds can use them. Now, if the Magpies could help out by keeping the water from freezing, I really would be impressed!
© Phil Pickin