With heavy wet snow overnight weighing down all the plants in the garden together with plummeting air temperature, a flock of goldfinches (stillits) (collectively known as a Charm) were at the bird feeder this morning. I guess it’s more difficult for goldfinches to get at their preferred food, burdock seed (Arctium spp.) in these conditions. With bramblings (bjørkefink), greenfinch (grønnfink) and yellowhammers (gulspurv).
I’ve written a series of articles in 3 parts “Fuglevennlige planter i hagen” (Bird friendly plants in the garden) for the magazine of our national bird society (NOF, now Birdlife Norge) called Vår Fuglefauna (Our Bird Fauna). The first part (6 pages) has already been published (the first two pages are shown below; deliberately blurred text (below). My most successful plant (genus) supplying bird food in winter has been various species of burdock / borre (Arctium spp.). The oil rich seeds are very popular with goldfinches (stillits) and greenfinches (grønnfink). This autumn I cut a few plants growing in a different part of the garden and moved them in full view of my kitchen window which allowed me to film a flock of 11 goldfinches yesterday (see below). In the summer, the same plants are popular with various pollinators and for that reason also provide food for other insectivorous birds in summer.
The article will also be published for members of Norwegian Seed Savers’ guild for “Insect and Bird Friendly Plants” in a few months from now. This guild works focuses on plants that are beneficial for maintaining a garden rich in a diversity of insects and birds, whilst still providing food for us!
Feeding birds in winter isn’t necessarily a good thing and at least one study has shown that birds lay lower numbers of eggs when fed well, perhaps due to an unnatural unbalanced oil-rich diet: https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/01/05/winter-bird-feeding-good-or-bad-for-birds However, there are many studies showing the opposite. But is good winter survival and artificially high populations necessarily a good thing apart from entertaining us and increasing awareness of the natural world. Then there’s the spread of disease at bird feeders as with the greenfinch (grønnfink) in the UK (populations plummeted and bird feeders no doubt contributed to the spread). That birds are discouraged from migrating and stay in the same area year round can also lead to greater exposure to disease. But what about the production of bird food? That happens often in large fields, mostly using conventional BigAg non-organic systems which directly impacts local bird populations by pesticides and habitat loss. Here in Norway, little of the bird feed is grown in-country. For these reasons, I try as far as possible to provide natural food for the birds so that they can find alternatives and I can delay putting out food as long as possible. Home grown apples are put out for the thrushes, I tidy seed heads in spring and nettle seeds loved by finches are allowed to hang all winter. Local grain can also be put out for yellowhammers (gulspurv). In the case of goldfinches (stillits), their main food is burdock (borre) and I have introduced Arctium lappa (greater burdock / storborre) to my garden for them and greenfinches (grønnfink). However, at this time of year they tend to move over to the birdfeeder. Here’s a couple of videos from the weekend of these beautiful birds that once were rare in this part of Norway, but are becoming more common each year. See other goldfinch posts here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=goldfinch
With 40-50cm of snow in the farm fields, grain-eating birds are desperate for food. Today, some 30 yellowhammers (gulspurv) and many hooded crows (kråke) and jackdaws (kaie) were at the bird feeder where I’d put out some grain this morning!
Spring can’t be stopped and this woodpigeon (ringdue) could be heard singing from the house today and I was woken at 6am (was 5am) by a robin (rødstrupe) singing in the garden (no complaints, always a beautiful moment to hear a returning Robin) ;) A black-headed gull (hettemåke) was also my first of the year and 4 pairs of Oystercatcher (tjeld) were feeding in the bay!!
I also heard singing siskin, great tit, blue tit, greenfinch and coal tit today!
Reports are also coming in of starlings (stær) arriving!
One of my favourite multi-purpose vegetables and one of my first unusual vegetables that I grew in my garden in the 80s was burdock or borre, more specifically various Japanese cultivars of Arctium lappa, hardly used in Europe and North America apart from a few foragers, even though it’s a common wild plant and hardy. Although it is best known as a root vegetable, there are varieties bred for their leaf petioles and the flower stems are really delicious! If you add to this that the seeds are foraged by various birds like goldfinches and greenfinches in winter in addition to being impressive photogenic plants which tolerated shady conditions, no permaculture garden should be without them!
In the album below are pictures I’ve taken over the years, in my garden, in botanical gardens and in the wild. There follows links to various blog posts about burdock!