Saturday, 4 April 2015

Garden birds in spring

Earlier this week spring seemed to have largely taken a break with unusually strong winds and unseasonably cool temperatures. Itching to get out with the camera again, but being a bit fed up of doing so in bad weather I instead made the most of an hour I had to spare just watching the birdlife in the garden early on Thursday morning (when the sun was finally shining!). Nothing out of the ordinary, the birds we have visiting the garden are just what you might expect in a typical UK small/medium garden in the suburbs, but still a real pleasure to just sit and observe and listen to the behaviour and antics of our familiar garden birds. 

Male Blackbird (helping with moss removal!)
The garden is a hive of bird activity and song at the moment, the Blackbirds generally being the earliest to rise (as well as the latest to roost), singing at first light, or even a little before - I know if I wake and hear Blackbirds that there are probably a couple of hours until the alarm will go off! We have at least 4 Blackbirds which I presume to be regular visitors to the garden as they are very tame. They will happily follow us around the garden and feed within a few feet, quite different to the Blackbirds in our old garden which spending most of their time in the adjacent woodland were far more wary of people. Other regulars include Robins, Blue, Coal and Great Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens, and occasional Pied Wagtails, Jackdaws, Crows and Black-Headed gulls.

We are fortunate to have a garden with hedges on all sides and consequently see and hear lots of hedge loving birds such as House Sparrows and Starlings, both of which are now red-listed species of conservation concern due to their serious population declines - not something that would have been predicted only 30 or so years ago. According to the RSPB website, House Sparrow numbers in the UK are estimated to have declined by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008, and since the mid 1970s, Starling numbers have fallen by 66 per cent. 

A nest box we put up for Sparrows has so far been ignored in favour of nesting somewhere behind the lead flashing up near the chimney where I've watched a pair busily taking feathers to line their nest. I had kept to one side a downy Woodpigeon feather (I'd intended to perhaps try using for a rainy day macro photo) but thought I'd see if it attracted any attention from these busy sparrows. I let the feather float to the ground and watched as quite literally within seconds (and yes too fast for me to focus the camera!) a plucky Male Sparrow spotted this valuable resource and took it for his nest.  

Male Starling
Some of my favourite birds - Starlings, have been busy gathering materials for their nests also. I watched as a female pulled small twigs from a tree that overhangs our garden, meanwhile a male sang, that fantastically jumbled song of whistles, squeaks and chatterings. In the breeding season the males and females can be told apart by the colours of their beaks - easily memorable as the females have a pinkish colour to their lower mandible, males a bluish grey.  

Heavily cropped photos, to show the blue and pink respectively on male and female Starlings' beaks

Male Greenfinch
Another song we often hear is that of a Greenfinch, they are quite capable of lovely twitterings though the sound that carries, and that they often seem to abbreviate their song to is quite a harsh 'wheezing' sound. A little to my disappointment, they don't seem to be tempted to visit our bird feeders (or at least not insofar as I've seen), but it is wonderful to see and hear them from the garden. Males have taken to singing from favoured high branches of Leylandii and Birch close by. The males are distinguishable from the females by their brighter green and yellow colouration. If you have a good enough view of a Greenfinch's tail - in a male the yellow will span the width of each tail feather, the females have much less yellow in their tails and overall.   

Woodpigeons have had thoughts of courtship and breeding on their minds for the past several weeks, and it was interesting to watch a male trying to impress a female with his elaborate bowing and tail fanning... persisting as the female continued to turn her back walk away in the opposite direction!

A precarious perch - one of several Woodpigeon visitors


  1. Great photos, as always, and a lovely variety of garden birds :) Looking at another grey and windy morning today, too many of these recently! Fingers crossed for some milder weather soon..

    1. Thanks very much Claire, the birds we see in the garden are all quite familiar but nonetheless captivating to watch, particularly at this time of year. :) It started off pretty dull and grey here too but brightened up for the afternoon - hope you've had some sun where you are!

  2. Wonderful images and great read, Jan. I always love watching the birds around the garden as well, and interesting to see your visitors there. I hate to hear about the House Sparrows and Starlings, though. Those are very significant declines in their numbers. I love the way Starlings are patterned. We have them here too. I had read they were introduced to the continent in New York City's Central Park in 1890, and by 1950 their range had extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean! I hope you're having good weather now. We had some frosty starts here over the past weekend, but Spring is really coming to life here now with lots of rain and wildflowers coming up.:-))

    1. Thanks very much Greg - I don't think anyone would have believed at one time that House Sparrow and Starling numbers would decline drastically as they have done - in bird ringing circles apparently sparrows were at one time considered too numerous to bother ringing them! As for Starlings - perhaps you'll have to export some back over here again!!! Great to hear your spring is at last starting to catch up - here it has been - wait for it.... gorgeous! A little mixed over the Easter weekend but this week sunny and warm - I have been out and about making the most of it, wonderful to see everything suddenly springing to life again! :)