Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do
Their young ones are hungry
Their nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you.
So sings 'the little old bird woman’ on the steps of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, in the enchanting film of Mary Poppins. Of course it’s Mary doing the actual singing, but she is giving voice to the old lady who sells her bags of breadcrumbs for people to feed the birds.
When I was a child it was my delight, when visiting my grandparents at Notingham’s Trent Bridge, to take such a bag of stale bread with which to tempt the swans who sailed up and down the River Trent.
In the first picture I appear to be throwing the bread ‘at’ rater than ‘to’ the poor birds. My brother, standing beside me, has a better technique; waiting for the swans to swim close he throws it at his feet.
I think these pictures were taken some time around Christmas 1957, when I was four, but I remember the ritual of feeding the swans well into my teenage years.
We would also feed the pigeons in Slab Square , in Nottingham’s City Centre.
A generation later, and my daughter generously shares the remnants of her picnic with the hungry pigeons, whilst her granddad looks on. This is the grounds of Nottingham Castle, on a day out in May 1988 with my Mum and Dad, during the school summer half term holidays .
A couple of years later and we’re back in our own home territory, visiting one of our favourite riverside pubs, The Bridge at Woodford, near Salisbury. Once again it’s stale bread that the swans are enjoying.
This is me about twelve years ago, being watched by my Dad whilst I feed the ducks; this time, however, it’s not bread that I’m offering. I’d joined the RSPB by then and was buying all my wild bird food from them, including for the swans and ducks. This is a special duck and swan food which consisted of tiny dried pellets. I was better educated by then too, and knew that bread was the wrong thing to feed the ducks.
There’s a campaign by the Canal and River Trust to discourage bread being thrown to the birds. Not only does it clog up the rivers, but it can cause lasting damage to waterfowl.
In some cases they develop a condition called ‘angel wing’ which is incurable and leads to the inability to fly and to certain death.
This is Canada Goose in London’s Kelsey Park; it would seem he has been eating too much bread.
So the message is, feed the birds by all means, but preferably with the right kind of food. The garden birds too have different dietary needs of specific nuts and seeds, and it’s worth putting the relevant mix on the bird table to attract some delightful little visitors. No need for the services of the the old bird woman then.
Our Sepia Saturday prompt image this week is a group of children feeding the pigeons, whilst the grandparents look on. It’s from the Royal Library of Denmark, via Flickr Commons, but it’s not known where and when the photo was taken, other than the sometime in the 1940s or 50s. The children have paid 10 øre for a bag of pigeon food; let’s hope it wasn't just breadcrumbs!