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Redwing. Photo Jon Hawkins Surrey Hills PhotographyRedwing. Photo Jon Hawkins Surrey Hills Photography

By Dyane Silvester

After a hot summer we seem to be having a bumper crop of berries and fruit this autumn, which folklore says is the precursor to a hard winter.

Whether true or not, it certainly allows birds and animals to gorge themselves before hibernation, or store food if they are going to be active through the winter.

Everyone knows about squirrels stashing nuts to come back to later, but did you know that crows and magpies do the same thing? Has it ever occurred to you that these creatures must have an incredible mental map of the locality that enables them to go back to the right spot later to retrieve their stores?

Almost all types of nut and berry are eaten by something: even yew (which is poisonous to most animals) is a valuable source of food for several bird species including thrushes and waxwings. The seed itself passes harmlessly through them whilst the red fleshy part is digested – so the tree also gains by having its seeds spread far and wide. Blackbirds and thrushes seem to love ivy, hawthorn and rowan berries; ivy and hawthorn in particular also afford them shelter as they feed and the latter make spectacular red hedgerows around many of our fields. Cotoneaster berries are popular with blackbirds and waxwings too – and being attractive and easy to grow, could make a great addition to your garden.

Although nuts are most commonly taken by squirrels, fieldmice and other small rodents, we had a walnut tree stripped bare by the crows. Other birds such as chaffinches, goldfinches, linnets and sparrows are seed-eaters and will take advantage of thistle heads - or if you've grown sunflowers and leave the heads on the plants you might be lucky enough to have a visit from your local charm.

Soft fruits are popular too; blackberries, snowberries, blackthorn, wild cherries, sloes, elderberries - and of course the strawberries, gooseberries and currants in your garden - will be welcome food for garden birds through the late summer and autumn if you allow them.

So before you go out there and harvest swathes of holly and ivy to decorate your house over Christmas, stop and consider who might be eyeing up those nutritious berries. 

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