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Pinecones (left) and terracotta pot (right)
Happy (cleaned-up) child (centre)

Our annual transmogrification into a nation of twitchers happens this Saturday and Sunday: it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB and just getting bigger… and bigger.

In fact, for over 30 years it’s been the barometer of change, charting the effect of modern life on our most vulnerable garden friends.

Last year broke all the records again: over 600,000 people took part and spent an hour freezing their… ahem, noses off for an hour (remember the weather?) recording the birds which visited there.

This year, with a bit of luck, it’ll all be a bit more balmy and as long as the rain stays off we’ll have a much nicer time. I’m busy playing with some ponies on Saturday but am hoping to join in on Sunday.

Our triple-pinecone extravaganza
in all its gloopy glory

Our garden is these days surrounded by proper old-fashioned hedgerows on all sides – five-star habitat for birds – so I’m hoping that we’ll be busy (a lot busier than the first time I tried it, anyway – that was a few years ago now but we were living in built-up Surrey suburbia at the time, the frost was thick on the ground and I nearly got hypothermia for the sake of one measly starling).

The RSPB encourages you to tempt the birds into your garden with lots of irresistible bird feed, baths and such like. And this gave me an idea.

I help out from time to time at the local youth club, which involves coming up with activities which the children might enjoy. So last week, we made bird feeders.

This has it all for kids: it’s wondrously messy, so simple even the littlies could join in, and dead cheap (we made around 20 bird feeders for all of four quid). So this week, set aside a little time with the small people in your life, suspend your misgivings where grease combined with birdfeed and your kitchen surfaces are concerned, and get stuck in for the best Birdwatch ever.

You will need:
– a block of lard, at room temperature: we found that a third of a one pound block of lard was enough to do each bird feeder
– bird seed: around two 1kg bags did our 20 feeders with some left over
– assorted containers. We used:

  • small logs, no more than 10cm (4″) diameter, hollowed out with a Forstener bit (that’s a bit of a techie thing which will I hope mean something to blokes: the hubster told me how to spell it and I have absolutely no idea what he was on about)
  • pine cones (opened): ours were rather small, so we tied them into bunches of three, but if you’ve got larger cones they can be used singly
  • small terracotta plant pots
  • yoghurt pots

– string and scissors
– bowls
– plastic bags
– washing up liquid, for clearing up

1) Take your lard and with your hands, mush it up. This is a child’s idea of heaven and an adult’s idea of hell. But a messy child is a happy child, so take comfort in that expression of unbridled glee.
2) Tip a handful of birdseed into a bowl, and then mash the lard into it, mixing lard and birdseed well in together in a lovely greasy mushy splodge.
3) Adults, while this is happening, can be tying bits of string to whatever you’re going to make the bird feeder out of. We found a few techniques which worked:

  • the logs needed a U-bend staple banged into the top: the 11-year-old boys took to this like ducks to water and at last found a youth club activity they could relate to. Loop the string through and you’re done.
  • pine cones: put the pinecone upside down and loop the string around the fat end, weaving it under the open segments wherever possible.
  • terracotta plant pots: just poke the string through the drainage hole and tie in a loop over the top: the pot then hangs on its side (easy for birds to access)
  • yoghurt pots: poke a hole in the bottom (or in the side, if you want it to hang horizontally) and thread the string through. Then get a matchstick and tie the end of the string that’s inside the pot around it. When you pull the string tight to hang the bird feeder, the matchstick holds it nicely in place.

4) Fill your bird feeder with the lard-and-birdseed mash. With pinecones, you’ll need to work it into the cracks between the open segments: once you’ve finished it looks like a ball. The holes in the logs worked beautifully, filled to the brim with mush: yoghurt pots and plant pots were simplicity itself to fill. Cram as much in as possible and smooth it off.
5) Place your completed bird feeder on a plastic bag in the fridge for the lard to harden again.
6) Then hang from your chosen tree, get out your RSPB identification chart, sit back and enjoy your annual hour’s birdwatching.