Back to School with the Open University….

Dear Readers, as I might have mentioned a few weeks ago, I am now getting stuck in to not one but two courses with the Open University (both are 30 credits so in theory it shouldn’t be more work than a single 60 credit course but I have my doubts). One is on Cell Biology, and my mind is already blown with thinking about how the original cells formed. Not only did complex cells probably happen when one bacteria engulfed another, and both lived very happily together in a symbiotic relationship, but some of the building blocks for life could well have arrived on meteorites.

However, my second course, the Biology of Survival, is going to feature some cookery. Who knew? Our very first experiment is on ‘prey differentiation in birds’, and we are going to knock up a dough-and-lard based treat for the birds in the garden. One lot of dough will be coloured bright red, and the other bright yellow. I am thinking about adding in something to make it more nutritious – maybe flutter-butter (which is peanut butter without the preservatives or salt). I wonder if you can get mealworm powder? At any rate, the only difference between the two colours of dough should be the colour, so I need to make it all up at the same time. The flour and lard together come to a stonking 2 kg, so I shall have to use plenty of elbow grease (or, thinking about it, my Kenwood bread mixer). After all, what’s the point of an electrical device if you don’t use it? I shall also use the least artificial colouring that I can find. I don’t want to poison my feathery guests.

Then each batch of dough needs to be divided into equal pea-shaped pieces, and it can be frozen. I see me spending a few hours getting all this sorted out.

We then have to spend a few weeks acclimatising the birds to their new food (but at the same time I don’t want to use all the dough up before the experiment begins officially at the start of November).

I suppose what I expect to happen is for the birds to prefer the red doughballs to the yellow ones, but it will be very interesting to see if there’s any difference between species. I also full expect the wood pigeons to scoff the lot, but let’s see. If the jackdaws find it, they’ll probably beat off all comers.

I also wonder if these guys will take a liking to this novel new food. They clearly are not birds, so I wonder if they’ll invalidate my experiment? Fingers crossed they’re not bread lovers.

At the moment, I feel slightly overwhelmed but I know from experience that the trick is to just keep on top of each week’s work, and try not to worry about the mountain of work that lies ahead. At the very least it seems stimulating, and anything that cranks my poor old brain into action can only be a good thing. Onwards!

2 thoughts on “Back to School with the Open University….

  1. Anne

    I look forward to hearing about the results of the dough experiment. You make a good point about food colouring though. At a recent talk on birds, a professor of ornithology cautioned the audience to refrain from colouring their offerings of sugar water for birds. His view was that birds will find it anyway and that the artificial food colouring is actually toxic for birds i.e. according to studies done on the mortality of birds shows a number of them have been exposed to high levels of the red dye in food colouring.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Anne, after some discussion with my group I’m going to use plant-based colourings such as cochineal and turmeric – the hummingbird/sunbird results appear to refer particularly to a colouring called Red 40, which is artificial and is indeed carcinogenic/toxic.


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