Thirsty birds

Redcurrant_Bush_MG_3183Watch nature and plan for picking accordingly or the birds may eat all of your berries. Alternatively, on a very hot summer, let them quench their thirst.


Fast readers can go right away to the last sentence of this blog entry to find the tip of the day. Or they may take time to read the complete story and understand better how to deal with birds. Up to you!

One of my friends, who lost her redcurrants this year raised the following hypothesis: with scorching temperatures in France at the beginning of this summer, birds got thirsty and gorged themselves with the juicy berries.

She didn’t mind: in a way she let our feathery friends have her redcurrants this year, and that’s fine once in a while, did she say with a large smile on her face.

This was the conclusion of a conversation we had on the absence of redcurrants on the bushes from let’s say mid-July this year, in almost all the gardens I heard of here around Aurillac in South West France.

Some garden owners even thought that they might have been robbed. Yet the truth is much more probably that their redcurrants, blackcurrants and other gooseberries were eaten by the birds. There are two reasons why I am saying that.

First, I remember the garden owner I usually get my redcurrants from. Every year, she says that I should pick before the birds come. “Go before the blackbirds”. We usually have this conversation during the second half of July, when I am around and her bushes are red with ripe fruit. And indeed, once we have picked the bulk of the crop, it doesn’t take very long before the rest disappears, as if by magic.

Second, one of my cousins who looks after his garden quite well told me: “it is easy to see whether the birds did it, because you can see the bare stalks left on the shrubs”. Usually  humans pick currants with stalks, as it is faster, cleaner, and the fruit keeps for longer. I checked this weekend, and here are the bare stalks…


Bare stalks all over the shrubs where I usually get my redcurrants from. I arrived too late to pick this year, because the fruit matured very early. The bush had no more berries on it already when I checked for the first time on 24 July. Photo 9 August 2015, Saint Simon, Auvergne, France.


The same bush on 2 August 2011.

This year was particular here in the South West of France. Nature was very early because of dry and hot weather and some of the redcurrants were already ripe in June, weeks in advance. Those who didn’t look closely enough, or, like me, were not around at the right time, lost them.

So, what can we do?

Some gardeners put nets to protect their currants from wild animals, yet we won’t look at that today.

Watch. Listen to nature. Continuously. Learn from year to year when the fruit ripens, the effect that particular weather conditions such as a long heat wave can have. When you see that the berries are ripe, harvest them. It usually takes several days for birds to do it in your place.

If you are not around, for instance if you went on holidays at the end of June or early July, hoping to make your redcurrant jam when back, well, don’t you have family, friends and neighbours around you who can check your garden, harvest for you, and freeze or use the fruit? This is where the local community comes into play and can be very handy.

Finally, plant enough for the birds to have their share. As my friend put it, and even if there was still plenty of water in the rivers around here for them to drink, the birds, and their offspring, may have got thirsty this year. Maybe do they find redcurrant juice particularly refreshing, not to speak about the nutritional intake the berries bring them?

Birds’ thirst in hot weather as an explanation for the vanishing of red currants is an unverified theory. I just find it a nice thought. Still, one thing is sure: without bushes in the gardens, there wouldn’t be any redcurrants at all. With an abundance of them around, there is a better chance for anyone to enjoy fruit at some point.

As you can see, the bird issue is better apprehended in the long run and with a broad view. As for the tip of the day? When you see a blackbird in your fruit bushes, don’t wait for too long before you harvest, even if it is early July. Or you might be left with nothing.



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