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Taming Wild Birds – Can You Tame Wild Birds?

It is entirely possible to tame wild birds, but relatively few have actually been domesticated.

We’ve been feeding wild birds with seed over the winter, and protecting House Martin nests for just over a year now at Sheepskin Towers. The results have gone further than we’d hoped. We’re starting to tame wild birds that visit the garden.

We get rock doves, great tits, jackdaws and surprisingly… A Sparrowhawk.

Now, most gardeners try to deter Sparrowhawks on the grounds that they have been nurturing small birds and hate to think of them being eaten. I tend to think that sparrowhawks need to eat and my garden is full of food.

It’s a conflict we all feel watching anything narrated by David Attenborough. On the one hand we want the prey to escape, on the other as Attenborough explains, if the mother doesn’t catch this cute little creature then her babies might not make it through winter.

I guess I must come to terms with the fact I have effectively been a sparrow breeder for the last twelve months. The arrival of a sparrowhawk is an endorsement if anything. The bird buffet extends well beyond sparrows.

This little female pheasant has been raised for humans to shoot. She has until October 1st when it becomes legal to hunt pheasants (after they’ve raised their young). She’s been enjoying the delicious seeds we put out for our feathered friends, and she’s getting tamer. Here she is enjoying a dust bath!

House Sparrows, Sparrow Hawks Favourite

Watch these House Sparrows feeding here:

Part of this interest in wild birds has come from a tame cockatiel.

Meet Steve, our female cockatiel, at 90 grams she’s more than double the size of a house sparrow. When we got her she hadn’t been out of a cage. She was untamed and had only ever been touched by a human when she was bought and sold. The lady who had her before us had put a lot of the groundwork in – sitting by the cage talking for hours. Spending time with her. But the little dog she lived with was an accomplished hunter, a Jack Russell with very sharp wits. So for her own protection Stevie stayed inside the cage until her owner could bare it no more and we took her home with us.

The process of taming a bird isn’t rocket science. Just go super slow. Spend time with the bird. Don’t be a threat, have food around. Move slowly. Be yourself, if you’re chatting and eating carry on chatting and eating!

Our job with Stevie is to slowly get her used to a harness so we can take her outside. Without a harness she’ll be easy picking for all the wild things.

So what is the difference between a tame bird and a domesticated bird? A tamed bird is one that will tolerate or enjoy human company, come close, maybe even allow a human to touch it. These tamed birds are the same as their wild counterparts and they could breed with them. Our Stevie could meet up with a wild Australian cockatiel and make babies.

A domesticated bird has been selectively bred to the extent that they are genetically different from their ancestors. So different that there is no wild counterpart that they could breed with.  The number of truly domesticated birds is relatively small and includes some breeds of chickens, pigeons and some, but not all, budgies.

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Is procrastination bad for you?

I’m a procrastinator and I think it means I get more done. I’ll often go to great lengths to avoid doing something. If I need to clean the house I’ll write loads. If I need to write a blog post I’ll do all the hoovering instead and the house will be tidy. In the end everything gets done, so I’m wondering is procrastination bad for you?

Is procrastination bad for you?

“I really should hang the washing out”

Magazines like Psychology Today seem pretty sure that procrastination is highly toxic.

A quick look online reveals dozens of articles detailing how to quit your procrastination habit. I’m not terribly convinced that procrastination is bad, I think it’s misunderstood. Think of it as mental preparation and mental rest in a busy world. We seem to rate busy work as if the very act of being busy has some kind of honour. It was Bill Gates who said  “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

I now segment my work days with ‘work breaks’ in which I work quickly for a concentrated period. I seem to get more done working this way and many problems are solved by merely taking a pause. Remember, it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese not the first. There’s often no prize for trailblazing.

In praise of pausing.

“The Greeks and Romans generally regarded procrastination very highly. The wisest leaders embraced procrastination and would basically sit around and think and not do anything unless they absolutely had to” – Smithsonian Magazine

Besides which no one ever got to their deathbed and wished they’d worked more, sent more emails or instigated a few moe meetings. At the end most of us will wish that we’d loved more, that we’d had enjoyed every passing moment more.

“What a foolish thing it is to be governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one’s whole life without a moment of peace” – Kenko Yoshida

Sometimes just starting a job is all that it takes. The momentum carries on until it’s done. I often find working with others is a good motivator – in our house we frequently do a ‘ten minute tidy up’, when everyone in our house does this we get a surprising amount done. Crucially, it’s not a chore. Sometimes I’ll get creatively distracted, I need to mow the lawn but instead I make a bottle garden… but then I can blog about it so it’s all good.

Busy doing nothing of real value.

I used to work for a terrible boss, an arrogant man. He would walk right past his bin to come and get someone to empty his bin. Emptying bins was beneath him. In fact making eye contact with anyone but senior staff was beneath him.

One day we’d all worked hard and fast making ‘one hour glasses’ at his opticians store. This particular day we’d put through bifocal, rimless and high prescription glasses along with the usual single vision jobs. We’d excelled. These special jobs would normally be subjected to a significant delay, but people had flights to catch and suchlike, so we’d pulled all the stops out. We had stuck our necks out, these special lenses aren’t just cut out and fitted. The back of these lenses are ground and polished, the rate of errors is much higher.

We finished all the work and before closing time the boss walked in to find us sat down. He was livid. He wanted to see us all engaged in busy work, despite the day we had had. In essence, this man would rather we pretended that there was work still to do. He was so wedded to the fictitious notion that being busy is worthy, while resting was lazy. How wrong he was: the staff turnover was high. Being a semi-skilled job meant that we were losing talent and time.






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Isn’t Technology wonderful/terrible?

Isn’t technology wonderful?

When I see the sun reflecting off the solar panels on the International Space Station as it orbits overhead, being followed some distance behind by the dimmer reflection of a supply ship, I think ‘isn’t technology wonderful’?

But when I discover that emails from our own website have been added to the spam folder it feels like a basic human right has been violated. And I am sorry to those who have been trying to get through. How is it that we can send people to into space… and then ship them food and fuel… but our emails fail having worked for ages without any intervention?

I’m not the only one having trouble with tech.

I just asked a guy why he always commented using CAPS LOCK on Facebook, he just messaged to say sorry… he’s housebound with a broken keyboard and he knows it makes him look like he’s ALWAYS SHOUTING!
Trouble is, he said, he’s deaf. So he wouldn’t know
The other night someone asked him to stop shouting because it was 3am!

To say sorry for our technical glitch here’s 25% off.

Sorry to everyone who’s been trying to get through on our email or website contact us page. For the next month the coupon – 25% off – will indeed get you 25% off!

Have you tried turning it off and then on again?

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Birds Behaving Badly – drink, drugs, violence and crime.

lorikeet drunk, drunk parrot

We love these examples of birds behaving badly. Whilst it must be horrible to be attacked by seagulls one has to admire mischievous birds. Of course in the UK our feathered fiends are saintly compared to Australian standards.

UPDATE: On top of all the other birds behaving badly, these Australian birds of prey deliberately start fires to flush out prey… They commit arson for heaven sakes.

It all started in 1932 when reports of large numbers of emus damaging crops began to escalate. Armed soldiers were deployed to shoot the flightless birds, beginning a war the men would ultimately lose!

It’s not just the emus…

Birds develop behaviours depending one their local culture and environment. So just as gulls will learn to snatch pasties and ice creams at the beach, magpies in Australia have developed the habit of attacking people. No one knows why, but they have. They seem to prefer attacking men and particularly cyclists.

“Magpie attacks are always directed at the head. Their weapons of choice are a closed beak or open claws, or they bite and leave two fine cuts where the skin has been pinched and sliced. They also dive bomb, the bird flying fast and using its full body weight to buffet the back of the intruder’s neck or head. This sort of attack can stun and may cause serious bruising” – The Guardian

The magpies aren’t the only birds behaving badly

The magpies seem to have taught the crows to attack people too.

Drunk and disorderly

Some birds like a tipple. Some birds like to get drunk. In Canada birds eating fruit late in the year have been studied getting drunk on rowanberries, whilst in Australia lorikeets have died whilst drunk flying. Some ended up recovering in a drunk tank. Meanwhile in America the poor souls have been spiked with alcohol to see if they start slurring.

“But many of the lorikeets brought to the hospital aren’t just mildly drunk –  they’re completely sloshed, and sometimes for days at a time” – Australian Geographic

Birds on acid

Ant then deck for me tonight

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s called Anting and it’s actually a thing in the bird community. Some say it’s to help with moulting, to reduce parasites or even to inoculate the birds so they can eat the ants… I think if you look at his little face you’ll see that he’s high as a kite.

“Birds were found to show anting behaviour only if the ants had a full acid sac, and with subjects whose acid sacs had been experimentally removed, the behaviour was absent” – Wikipedia

That’s not the worse of it.

In India even firecrackers won’t keep these birds away from their fix of opium.

“the dope-craving birds will sit perched on trees near the poppies until workers slit open the pods…The parrots, numbering in the hundreds, have learned not to squawk. They swoop down, nibble off the stalks and fly back to the trees, where they nod off for hours, sometimes even falling to their deaths” – Huffington Post

Stolen goods

With drink, drugs and violence already in the mix, it comes as no surprise that birds behaving badly are stealing as well. Look at this selfie. #ThugLife



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Is [insert everyday item] Safe For Birds?

Just about everything is dangerous to birds; chocolate, avocado, onion and garlic… That’s why we seem to Google “Is [insert everyday item] safe for birds” several times a day!

The trouble is they seem to love getting into mischief, add to that an unhealthy dose of urban myths and one wonders that they survive at all.

What could possibly go wrong?

“They love to die”

I was talking to a local farmer who had been tasked with raising tens of thousands of pheasants for the local Duke and his mates to shoot at. I was surprised that the day old chicks costs so much money. If memory serves me, about £5 a head. The trouble is, he told me, they love to die.

The same seems to be true with tamed birds. We are looking after my daughter’s conure whilst she is away. Both the conure and the cockatiel get along fine but the conure is way more rambunctious, mischievous and outgoing. This manifests itself as chewing wires, drinking anything in a glass and landing on the cooker.

Cooking has to happen when the birds are safe in their cages and we are finding solutions to the other dangers too.

a latch keeps the birds safe
Simple solution to a serious problem

One day my son went to shut the door behind him and the two birds were on the top of the door, their favourite perch. The urgency of our response taught us that we needed to make the situation safe. A simple catch fixed things.

how to keep conures and cockatiels safe on doors

Dangerous myths

There are loads of myths around birds. Received wisdoms that continue to cause harm. Take the classic round cage, ornate and decorative. Hung in the middle of the room for all to admire… An awful and unsafe way to keep a bird.

Not only do round cages offer no corners to hide in, but their shape leaves lots of foot and wing traps where the bars converge at the top. Birds like to be against a wall, or even better in the corner of a room where nothing can sneak up behind them. Birds kept in a round cage hung in the middle of a room live with anxiety.

The canary in the kitchen

You’ve heard of the canary in the mine… the reason a canary would have been taken down a mine was because of its sensitivity to gasses. A bird does have lungs but they are better than yours.

“The respiratory system of birds is more efficient than that of mammals, transferring more oxygen with each breath. This also means that toxins in the air are also transferred more efficiently. This is one of the reasons why fumes from teflon are toxic to birds, but not to mammals at the same concentration” – Petcoach

Down the mine if a dangerous build up of gases occurs you lose the canary before the men. This is where we discover many common utensils and modern conveniences are fatal to birds. Teflon, for example, releases four gases toxic to birds. One of which is a nerve agent used in world war two.

Whilst teflon is dangerous to humans at above 350 degrees Celcius, it is dangerous to birds at normal cooking temperature. Nonetheless, it does make you wonder what it’s doing to us humans?

“…cases of Teflon flu are due to acute (short-term) exposures to PTFE fumes; no studies have been done looking at the long-term effects of brief, repeated PTFE-fume exposure, as would be the case in cooking using non-stick pans for a lifetime” – TIBBS Bioscience

A bird in the bag

I’ve read a number of cases where a ‘roast in the bag’ oven ready chicken has killed pet birds. The advice is not to use them at all if you keep birds. The convenience simply isn’t worth the risk. And again I wonder what effect these bags might be having on the mammals and other animals of the house, not to mention the environment.

What a gas

Open fires, smoking and aerosoles all join the prohibited list, along with bleach and oven cleaner. Especially oven cleaner.  Oven cleaners can be separated into two basic groups. Those that work and those that don’t. If you keep birds you’re sadly restricted to the latter. Most oven cleaners contain caustic soda in some form or other. Choose a cleaner that is baking soda based and scrub harder!

Around the kitchen and bathroom you can use cream cleaner, which is salt based. Don’t let the bird lick it though… salt is dangerous to birds. Like the man said, they love to die.

Higher perches

Birds feet can also be a source of trouble. They don’t work like yours but rather ‘lock’ around perches using a ratchet mechanism in their legs. The tendon has nobbles at intervals which the bird can hold into place for long roosts. If a bird regularly rests on a perch of uniform diameter and doesn’t exercise all along this tendon then they can suffer tendinitis.

The best perches (like this one) have a variety of ‘holds’ the bird can use. Irregularity is the key. Also, turn the perch around every week or so. Shake things up a bit with their toys, move things around. Not only will this make new interest in old toys but it will also encourage the bird to choose a different perch and get the leg exercise it needs.

As I write this Heidi the conure is sat on top of my laptop. She has just leaned over and attempted to eat some of the peace lily on the kitchen table… reminding me that peace lilies are toxic to birds. I was going to write a little about electrical wires, but that may have to wait until another day.

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Byteball now accepted – Get 10% Cashback In Byteball Bytes On All Transactions!

online stores that accept byteball

Free cashback in digital currency on ALL transactions in our store!

Dartmoor Sheepskins has joined the list of online stores that accept Byteball Bytes!

We are delighted to join the list of online stores that accept Byteball Bytes. Even better, we have been accepted on the official Byteball merchant program, which means anyone using our store will receive 10% cashback in this digital currency for free. Bytes are the native currency of the Byteball platform and you can send them and spend them with exceptionally low fees.

Byteball are giving this currency to promote its use and spread awareness.

This free cashback applies to every order, no matter how you pay! The bytes will be sent to your Byteball wallet via smart contract when your transaction is completed in our store. If you don’t yet have a wallet, simply use your email address and the cash will be held online for you to spend as you wish, or to hold to see if the value goes up. The highest price ever paid for Byteball bytes was over £650. The price at the time of writing is just over £150. Cryptocurrencies rise as well as fall so it can seem daunting… when should you jump in? This offer is an easy way to acquire some digital currency at no cost, just tell your friends!

Smart Payments Made Simple.

There are several cool things we like about Byteball. It scales, unlike Bitcoin which has a limit on the number of global transactions per second.

Byteball doesn’t use a blockchain.

Instead of a blockchain Byteball writes the public ledger and confirms transactions using a Directed Acyclic Graph – each transaction verifies other transactions happening at around the same time. The system is infinitely scalable. More is more.

Each transaction verifies others (click image for source, Wiki)

Not Just A Cryptocurrency.

The really exciting thing about Byteball is that, like Ethereum, one can build smart contracts. Unlike Ethereum, Byteball can execute them in unlimited number. Byteball is energy efficient.

“Byteball enables trust where trust couldn’t exist before.

When a contract is created on Byteball platform, it can be trusted to work exactly as agreed upon. Why? Because it is validated by multiple nodes on the decentralized network, which all follow the same immutable rules. The counterparty, even if it is a total stranger, has to behave honestly because only the rules have authority. Such a contract is called a smart contract” –

Right from within the Byteball wallet you can already set up delayed flight insurance, bet on football results and play games, with active development of many more applications using these smart contracts.

We like it because it is fast, secure and elegant in use. Simply click Pay with Byteball bytes at the checkout.

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Pigeons Rock (Doves)

Pigeons Rock (Doves)

People love doves, they are a symbol of peace, their gentle coo warms our hearts and brings a warm glow to bodies but not so the pigeon. Seen a plenty on our streets the humble pigeon, often called a sky rat, is hated by many. There is a slight problem with this though, there is no difference between a dove and a pigeon.

Our city pigeons are actually the feral descendants of the Rock Dove.

The Rock Dove – What many would call the common pigeon.

Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA

To make matters even more confusing, when looking at the etymology you see their names mean ‘pigeon, dove’

The rock dove was first described by Gmelin in 1789. The genus name Columba is the Latin word meaning “pigeon, dove”, whose older etymology comes from the Ancient Greek κόλυμβος (kolumbos), “a diver”, from κολυμβάω (kolumbao), “dive, plunge headlong, swim”. Aristophanes (Birds, 304) and others use the word κολυμβίς (kolumbis), “diver”, for the name of the bird, because of its swimming motion in the air – Wikipedia

Before becoming domesticated, the doves lived on the cliffs but found a happy life alongside humans. They are amazing companion birds who have a strong bond with the humans who keep them. They also mate for life and raise their young as a family unit. Uncles and aunts helping to guard the nest and even sitting the eggs and hatchlings.

Pigeon Heroes

As well as being sweet natured and loyal, they have served humans for hundreds of years. They have saved lives and won medals. The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in World War II and has been won by many pigeons. Maria Dickin was the founder of the PDSA.

Some examples of awards of this medal have been –

White Vision –  a Pigeon who delivered a message that led to the rescue of a ditched aircrew in October 1943. She flew 9 hours in bad visibility and heavy weather with strong headwinds.

Kenley Lass  – a Pigeon who who was the First pigeon to deliver intelligence from an agent in enemy-occupied France in October 1940; served with the National Pigeon Service. She was parachuted with the agent and released 12 days later to fly 300 miles back to home in less than 7 hours.

Gustav – a Pigeon who brought the first message from the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944 – Wikipedia

Recently I have had the absolute pleasure of watching these pigeons nesting on a balcony in Torquay. The little hatchling has survived Herring Gull attacks and the deepest snow this country has seen for more than a decade. Perhaps, the next time we are annoyed at a bit of poo on our car or think of the scavenging sky rats eating from our bins, it might be good to think of the lives that have been saved or the strength of bond these animals have both with their flock mates and with us.

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These pigeons nesting on a balcony return every year.

Baby pigeons up close

Pigeons nesting on a balcony in Torquay.

Had to share this with you. A friend has had multiple generations of the same family of pigeons nesting on a balcony in his flat in Torquay! The latest chick is doing well and mum, dad and aunts and uncles attend to its every need.

baby pigeons nesting on a balcony in Torquay

This baby is a Survivor.

Out of four eggs this is the only survivor. Pigeons nesting on a balcony run the risk posed by hungry seagulls. This chick and its parents (and extended family) have also faced some of the worst weather seen for decades in the west country, heavy snow and torrential rain have taken their toll on all wild birds, meaning that competition for food has become intense.

A little chick like this would feed a seagull through to see another day. This was the fate that met his siblings.

pigeons nesting on a balcony
It’s raining hard and mum is covered in water droplets

“Pairs are monogamous, often breeding in consecutive seasons for as long as both birds of a pair live.

Most will attempt to raise several broods each year. Sometimes as many as four or five broods will be raised in a single year.

The breeding season of these birds can be all year provided climate conditions allow. There seems to be some slowing down during the winter months” – Wild Bird Watching

Fun fact: Pigeons are Doves.

The distinction is class-based and without any genealogical merit. Street pigeons are just European rock doves that went feral. Basically, if you have a shed out back full of birds that you coo over and race at weekends… then they’ll be called pigeons. If you have an ornate brick built bird palace in your garden… then that will be called a dovecote.

These pigeons return every year to nest on this balcony. The whole family take part and they seem to leave only the shortest gap in the depth of winter.

“The nesting habits of these birds are a bit unique. The male chooses a site in view of the female, selecting one stick and bringing it back, lays it in front of his mate.

The female who stays at the nesting site accepts the sticks the male brings to her and places them underneath her” – Wild Bird Watching

If you like birds you may want to follow our own Steve on Instagram, check out our unashamedly premium handmade perches or read our latest blog about bird safety.

Don’t stop feeding them during nesting season.

The old wisdom that you shouldn’t feed birds with seeds during the nesting season is a myth handed down – it is still causing harm. The parents will chew the seed and regurgitate for their young. So seed IS safe to feed during the nesting season. When you think about it stopping feeding during this time is particularly mean as this is precisely when wild birds are working hardest.

The only caution is avoid whole peanuts as birds can choke on them.


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The Leechwell in Totnes

Since the 1400’s there have been named wardens of the Leechwell in Totnes. The water was believed to cure leprosy among other things, and sick folks would journey to Totnes to get healed by the water. To this day there are still named wardens!

The three troughs (from left to right); Toad, Long Crippler and Snake (Long Crippler is an old fashioned name for a slow worm).

The Leechwell in Totnes: A Trilogy

Everything about the well is in threes; there are three pools into which the well pours, the well is sited at the junction of three lanes and the lower immersion pool is an equilateral triangle with sides thirteen feet long.

The Leechwell is located where the three lanes meet.

A surprise discovery.

The immersion pool has yet to be restored back to its former glory, but there are plans to include it into the wonderful Leechwell Gardens sited just downhill from the well. The triangular pool was only discovered recently and quite by accident.

The pool, which is actually triangular, was identified as an Immersion Bath associated with the Leechwell Holy Well and scheduled as an Ancient Monument by English Heritage in 2005 – Leechwell Garden Association

These beautiful old stone walls come at a price it seems. They are bowed out in several places. If you head up hill (the whole area is very steep!) to Maudlin Road, where the original Leper Hospital was sited, you can see a stretch of similar wall has been badly damaged by recent heavy rain. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Collapsed wall in Totnes Maudlin Road

The Maudlin Leper Hospital

The garden adjoins the grounds assigned to the Maudlin Leper Hospital on the slope above the garden in Maudlin Road. The Maudlin, like many leper hospitals, was established in the 12th Century. Like many, it housed about 12-14 brethren, not all necessarily lepers, and had its own chapel and well. Hospital rules generally required inmates to stay within the hospital grounds, so it is unlikely that they would have used the Leechwell or have been seen much in the town centre. Deeds record that the Maudlin grounds once included a ‘herbe’ or vegetable garden as well as an orchard. The Maudlin Leper Hospital gradually became redundant. It was pulled down and the grounds sold in 1719 – Leecchwell Garden Association

Tadpole season!

The gardens are run by a volunteer committee who have done a brilliant job in creating this great resource – a real asset to Totnes and a lovely way to spend time with kids. Right now you can watch tadpoles which have hatched up stream get washed down to the lower pool.

The Leechwell Garden Association welcomes new members, if you are interested in joining contact Lu Overy via email