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Bill Oddie Bill Oddie | 09:32 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

Bill Oddie's 'ludicrous' garden

My 'ludicrous' garden

"It's getting ludicrous" my wife told me. She was referring to my garden. She meant it as a criticism. I took it as a compliment.

I am not sure that "ludicrous" is the appropriate word, but I admit my garden is not conventional. It's not meant to be. It isn't big - about half a tennis court. I have divided it into clearly demarcated areas, some of them inspired by my international travels.

For example, there is the "magic tree" - actually a lilac - festooned with the kind of shiny, glittery, swivelling things you can buy at a 'New Age' shop, augmented with strips of coloured paper and a few fake insects. Roadside trees in India are often decorated thus.

Then there's the "Inca Ruins", created from a few crusty old house bricks, fragments of clay pottery, and one of those plaques with a smiley sun's face on it, which looks Inca, even if it isn't.

There is also a thriving thicket of tropical jungle with ferns, palm trees, bits of bamboo and a couple of Buddhas. This I have called "Viet Nam", even though I have never been there.

Plus, I have excavated five small ponds, divided by equally small rockeries, which look almost natural. Something that can't be said of "Gnome Corner", the home of an ever increasing colony of at least 100 gnomes, some pleasingly jolly, but most of them undeniably tasteless. The whole effect is - what is the word? Imaginative? Quirky? Unusual? Oh, ok, ludicrous.

But what about the wildlife? To be honest, at first glance, one could be forgiven for assuming that my garden has been specially designed to deter birds.

For a start, it is not exactly quiet. When a breeze blows,windmills whirr and wind chimes of all sizes tinkle and clang, like an under-rehearsed Balinese Gamelan orchestra.

Plastic animals

The pigeon is real!

Then there are the plastic predators. Lots of them. Many gardens have one. Usually a fake heron, posing by the pond to deter real herons from gobbling the goldfish. Have you noticed that it doesn't work? For a very good reason. If a flying heron looks down and sees what appears to be another heron crouched immobile over the water, it assumes there are fish to be caught, and is most likely to join its chum, real or plastic. Wildfowlers use the same technique to lure ducks. They put out decoys. The fact is that fake birds are if anything likely to attract others of the same species, not scare them away. I have 3 herons and 2 egrets in my garden. I have only ever had one real heron. But then I haven't got any fish.

I also have several of those model hawks and owls that are meant to frighten birds away from airports and valuable crops. So do they clear my garden too? I conducted an experiment. I put a very realistic plastic peregrine falcon on my shed roof. This is a bird that is feared by many others, especially pigeons, which are staple peregrine diet.

Plastic owl and real blackbird

One could be forgiven for assuming that my garden has been specially designed to deter birds

I retired to the back room and lurked by the open door with my camcorder. Within 10 minutes, I had a video of 2 or 3 wood pigeons pottering around the peregrine as if it were one of their own. It was almost as if they knew perfectly well it was a fake.

To confirm my conviction that birds are not daft, my garden is now guarded by the peregrine, a kestrel, an eagle owl and no fewer than five little owls. I have pictures of all of them with great tits, blue tits or robins perched on their heads! I even once - in the cause of science - put out a totally realistic cat (not a stuffed real one). It was barely a minute before that too had a couple of wrens hopping on its back, and a young rat gnawing at its tail!

Then there are my mirrors. The generally touted advice is that you shouldn't put a mirror in a garden because birds will attack their own reflection, thinking it's a rival, and they could hurt themselves by pecking at the glass. I have indeed witnessed that kind of behaviour, but only by dunnocks (hedge sparrows), and though there was a fair amount of fluttering, pecking and poking I am pretty sure there was no beak breaking or head bruising. I even solicited a second opinion by placing a mirror on the bird table. It got no reaction at all, although I reckon one particularly vain robin had a bit of a primp.

Anyway, my noisy, garish, model-infested, ludicrous garden has five large mirrors and a number of little ones, suspended on fences, nestling in rockeries and wedged into bushes. Thus, the many psychedelic bird scaring features are reflected and multiplied as if in a giant kaleidescope.

And yet, I have 58 different species on my garden list. Admittedly, this is over 20 years, and a fair proportion of them were flying or circling overhead, including 8 birds of prey: kestrel, sparrowhawk, hobby, red kite, buzzard, honey buzzard, osprey and (real) peregrine.

Most birdwatchers count flyovers on their garden lists - species seen in, over, or from your garden - except the RSPB. The rules for the annual Big Garden Birdwatch clearly state: "please record the highest number of bird species seen in your garden (not flying over)."

Sounds a bit mean doesn't it? Well no: it's all in the interest of facts, figures and fun. Anyway, it doesn't mean you can't look at anything that flies over!

The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place this weekend. It is easy to take part. All you need is a garden or a park. Further information - including identification help - is available on the RSPB website. By taking part you will be contributing to a unique cross-Britain database which reveals the state and status of the species that choose to enjoy - and may indeed depend on - the food and shelter that we provide in our gardens. Please join in.

Oh yes, one word of caution: if you do have mirrors in your garden, make sure you don't count every bird twice!

Watch clips of Bill Oddie's Top Ten Birds

Use the BBC's Wildlife Finder to explore hundreds of different birds.

Visit the BBC's Nature UK website


  • Comment number 1.

    My regular garden birds disappeared with the cold weather, I don't think they perished, but being very suburban they may of gone away to woodland. However this morning I saw a couple of blue tits chasing one another, perhaps a sign that spring is not so far away?

  • Comment number 2.

    Good to hear from Bill; we REALLY missed him. We fed the birds in our garden more than usual in the bad weather ,even treated them to dried meal-worms, & we have loads of trees with berries so had more birds than ever when the redwings & fieldfares arrived.I love Bill's jungle;if you want neat & tidy go to a park!We have a clear 'football' space in the centre of ours but the edges are a bit wild.Last year we had a chaffinch pecking away at a window near his nest, he obviously saw himself as a rival! We have seen about 30/40 different species over 30 years here, the most unusual being a brambling 3 years ago. He came regularly for afew weeks & we have some brilliant video of him but unfortunately he didn't return last winter.Probably good for him as it meant he hadn't gone off course.I think the birds know when we count them as ours usually stay away until the following weekend.Perhaps the North should do their count later than the South?

  • Comment number 3.

    Lovely to find this blog. We miss Bill Oddie enormously on TV Spring Watch programmes etc. To have someone honest and outspoken and untidy and grey around the edges and not afraid to air their views from a knowledgeable and expert background is refreshing. Come back please, politically-correct or not!

  • Comment number 4.

    I did my bit of birdwatching today.
    I was tempted to do it from my bedroom window as it was sooo cold outside and normally I get a lot of house sparrows visiting the gutter by the roof adjacent to me. But I decided to brave the cold for an hour and managed to see lots of Great Tits and Robins (i had put some more bird feed out the day before and i think they were greatful). But i have really enjoyed it!
    Time for a cup of tea!

  • Comment number 5.

    'The birds are back in town', my garden for a few minutes has just been a frenzy of feeding tits. There is feeder but they were more interested in seeking insects from nooks and crannies. However sensation a long tailed tit, never been seen before in this land usually of starlings and sparrows. Clearly I have someone else's birds, perhaps they will sort them selves out in time.

  • Comment number 6.

    My garden has been very busy throughout the cold weather due to regular feeding and treats we leave out for the birds. I was pleased to see some long tailed tits today as i have not seen them for quite a while. Also today i seen some coal tits, had the daily visit from the robin, gold finches, dunnucks, great tits, blue tits, chaffinchs and sparrows. I was seeing the local woodpecker through the cold snap but i have not seen him for a few weeks.

  • Comment number 7.

    Loving those pictures of your garden, I am also want something like that for mine. Hopefully my wife will not complain :P

    Google Sniper 2 User

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for you comments everyone. Really glad you enjoyed Bill's post.

    And thanks hereisabee for sharing your great picture of the long-tailed tit.

    Jen :-)

  • Comment number 9.

    this is an amazing picture of the garden .... I would love to have something like this, hopefully my parents won't mind.

    kind regards,

    Sweet pick up lines user.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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