As the wintry weather transforms the suburban garden into the blasted heath in King Lear, spare a thought for the poor birds whose natural sources of food have been snowed on, iced up, rained away or blown to buggery.
You might think of leaving out some breadcrumbs for the poor darlings. Except that, in bird-food land, things have moved on: if that’s all you’ve left out, you’ll probably find them extending an avian V-sign in your direction.
Because there’s a flourishing industry out there, devoted to attracting birds and feeding them with ever more specialised treats. Remember how they used to hoick worms out of the garden and eat them? Now, for the foodie robin, three different “mealworm” dishes are available from specialist shops – earthworms, buffalo worms and English waxworms. The latter are fed on nutrients like honey and wheatgerm, the gourmet robin’s equivalent of corn-fed chicken or beer-enhanced wagyu beef.
If you want your garden to be full of tits (oh stop it), lumps of suet used to be the thing. But the modern tit expects something more luxurious. At CJ Wildlife, “Europe’s largest wild bird food supplier”, they offer the discerning tit a Suet Ring, “made from fats bound with peanut flour and seeds” and “finished with a generous coating of dried fruits and mixed seeds”. You’d think they were talking about a venison dish from Rules, “finished with a port-wine reduction”. Is there a birdy wine list? A wildfowl dessert trolley?
You start to think of urban gardens as rival restaurants, offering ever-more sophisticated dishes for an increasingly picky clientele. “Muesli with mealworms,” no less, is the breakfast of choice for blackbirds. “Fruit ‘n’ nut peanut cake tubes” bring the trendy thrushes flapping in. Berry coconuts (“half a coconut filled with high-energy fat combined with berries”) send tits into a delirium of excitement. It’s all just a bit too blooming precious, don’t you think? These mornings, I can’t read the instruction “Fill your bird feeder with sunflower hearts, raisins and sultanas (soaked in water)” without thinking: Water? What’s wrong with Armagnac?