Return to Home Page

"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"

Birds page 2



Carduelis carduelis

The handsome Goldfinch is a welcome visitor to any garden. But, they tend to be specialist feeders. They favour the seed from wild thistles, ornamental thistles and teazles and are attracted to the black niger/nyger seed specifically sold as bird seed. The latter comes from an African daisy, Guizotia abyssinica.

It can be quite frustrating, seeing flocks (known as 'charms') of Goldfinches feeding on thistles on waste ground or field margins yet not be able to attract them into an immaculately maintained garden. Occasionally they may follow Greenfinches to sunflower seed feeders and once they find a nyger feeder they will certainly come back for more. Some will migrate to and from continental Europe but a regular supply of nyger seed in the garden will usually persuade some to stay resident.

Male and female plumage is identical but adolescents, appearing about the end of May, lack the vivid colouring until moulting into adult plumage in late summer.

27.04.2012 One attracted to garden Niger seed feeder.
28.04.2012 And now there were four!
29.04.2012 Word gets around - 6!

Male Chaffinch Chaffinches - 2 males and a female


Fringilla colebs

The Chaffinch vies with the Tree Sparrow in being the most frequent visitor to our garden. On quiet days they will happily visit the seed feeder but when things get busy I find that they are equally content to forage at ground level. Because of their alert, active nature, I find it difficult to make accurate assessments of their numbers but, a wide angle camera image captured 27 of them under a seed feeder one day.

It is common throughout the UK and Europe. Breeding begins in April or May and, usually, two broods of four or five are raised annually in neat, compact nests built in hedges, bushes and shrubs. The young are fed on soft bodied larvae of beetles, moths and butterflies etc. but, the staple diet of the adults is usually plant seed.

The lower, group image, taken on a dull winter day, shows that the female, at the bottom of the picture, shares the same markings but lacks the the more vivid colouring of the two males towards the top of the picture. Later, in the breeding season, the males will sport even brighter plumage.

25.11.2010 Resident daily visitors to the garden.
10.01.2015 27, probably more, under the garden seed feeder.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Parus caeruleus

The Blue Tit is a lively, nervous little bird, rarely still. If the seed feeder is busy, it usually flies in, picks up a seed and then flies off to devour it in the privacy of nearby foliage. Even when the feeder is quiet, it may stay to pick through the loose seed but will always be nervously hopping about and looking over its shoulder. The best location to watch the Blue Tit is at a nut feeder or on a fat ball where it is forced to stay and peck at the food source.

At 4.5", 115mm long it is a small compact bird. It's upper parts, from the crown of its head, it's back and wings, are distinctly bluish green in colour. The face is white with a thin black eye stripe and collar and the under parts are greeny yellow with just the suggestion of a black stripe towards the tail. Both sexes are similar.

It is common throughout the UK. Although classified as a woodland species it is no stranger in gardens around bird seed feeders. As many as 12 eggs can be laid between March and April and the young will be fed on caterpillars and grubs.

Resident all year round Seen daily at seed and nut feeders

Great Tit Great Tit

Great Tit

Parus major

The Great Tit, as its name suggests, at 5.5", 140mm long, is the largest of the UK Tit family. It presents itself as a confident, bossy bird and can be quite aggresive towards towards others when food is in short supply.

It is boldly marked, with a black head, white cheeks and a prominent black chest stripe extending from the underside of the beak to the base of the tail. The body is a contrasting bright pale apple green and the grey wings are tinted with green or blue depending on the lighting conditions. Generally, this gives it a rather handsome, smart appearance. The female has a narrower chest stripe but, otherwise the sexes look very similar.

Breeding takes place from March onwards and as many as 12 eggs can be laid. The young are fed mainly on caterpillars and grubs.

The Great Tit is found throughout the British Isles with the possible exception of the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland.

Resident all year round Seen daily at seed and nut feeders.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Parus ater

The Coal tit is a resident species in the UK, the only tit with a white streak on the back of its head. It prefers coniferous woodland habitats and only seems to frequent the conifer hedging and bushes in our garden during the winter months when woodland insects may be scarce or hibernating.

It is a small bird, about 4.5", 11cm long, the same size as a Blue Tit, and has the same nervous, never still characteristics of all the Tit family. Nesting usually takes place about the end of April in a low level hole in a tree, wall or even a hole in the ground. Once the 7 - 11 eggs have been laid, the female will usually incubate them for about 17 days relying on being fed by the male. But, with so many mouths to feed both parents will then be fully occupied for another 16 days feeding the fledglings.

Although its diet is mainly insectivorous, it is known to take seed, particularly of conifer cones.

25.11.2010 An intermittant visitor to the garden.
16.01.2012 A pair at the garden seed feeder.
20.11.2014 A solitary bird searching a small conifer for insects.
03.01.2015 Possibly two birds searching all the likely spots for insects.
25.01.2015 A pair mingling freely with other species at the seed feeder.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Aegithalos caudatus rosaceus

The Long-tailed Tit is a tiny little bird. It's body is only about 2", 50mm, long, not much bigger than a golf ball but, it has a 3.5", 90mm, tail. So it is very distinctive and not likely to be confused with anything else. If the Tits in general are regarded to be nervous, active birds, then this one is hyperactive. It is never still as it flits about seeking it's insectivorous diet. The black, grey and white coloration is similar for both sexes. Although textbooks sometimes refer to pink and rose tints, as is hinted at in the scientific name, it's not an obvious feature that I've ever noticed as they flit restlessly about.

The remarkable nest construction starts in March, usually in dense bushes but sometimes against a sheltered fork in a tree. For a bird with a long tail, it's an unlikely domed structure, like a small rugby ball, usually of moss bound together with cobwebs and hair, covered with lichen and lined with feathers, with a high entrance hole. When inside the nest the adult birds have to fold their tails vertically against their backs. As many as 10 eggs can be laid (20 have been recorded!) and a second brood sometimes occurs.

The resident UK population is common throughout the UK with perhaps the exception of the far north of Scotland and is occasionally supplemented by migrants of the Northern Long-tailed Tit species, Aegithalos caudatus caudatus, which roams much of Northern mainland Europe. The differences between the two species are subtle and unlikely to be recognised by casual observers.

19.04.2010 A pair frequented the garden for about ten days.

British Robin

(British) Robin

Erithacus rubecula melophilus

The Robin is common in many northern hemisphere countries from America through Europe and North Africa to the Middle East - but it is not always the same Robin. Evolution has produced several different races within the Robin family and the one referred to here is the British Robin which is subtly different even from its close neighbours in Ireland and western Europe. Not only are the races separated by plumage coloration but, whereas the British species favours an open lowland habitat, the southern Europe species favours high forestation.

Robins tend to be solitary birds as they search for insectivorous food but will mix freely with other species around seed feeders or other bountiful sources of food. However, in the mating season they can become fiercely defensive and noisy squabbles can develop as they fend off intruders in their nesting and feeding territory. Their fearless reputation is enhanced by the many tales of them following gardeners closely in the expectation of worms or beetles being unearthed. I've turned round to use a spade only to find a Robin sitting patiently on the handle.

Nesting usually begins around the end of March and they are renowned for choosing unlikely nest sites. We had a pair that chose to nest in a postbox. And they are known to make use of discarded tins, boxes and even kettles as well as holes in trees or more conventional nests deep in foliage. Two or three broods of five or six chicks can be raised in a year .

Annually A regular garden visitor.
24.02.2011 A lone bird singing it's heart out on a hedge on a mild winters day.

Male Blackbird Female Blackbird


Turdis merula

The Blackbird is a Thrush. Well, it's a member of the Thrush family as it's generic name, Turdis, indicates. But, there is usually no trouble in recognising it for what it is. The aptly named adult male (upper image) has uniformly black plumage, glossy black in the mating season and a bright yellow beak. Immature males in their first season will have a black beak. The female (lower image) is brown, with a brown beak and has ill defined spots on it's breast which gives the clue to it's Thrush family lineage. Adolescent birds resemble the female with rather more prominent spots on the breast.

The Blackbird is a common resident throughout the UK. It favours bushes, trees and hedgerow habitats and is a frequent garden visitor but is not seen so often in open farmland. It has a mixed carnivorous and vegetarian diet, commonly seen hunting for worms and insects in the garden and taking fruit and berries from hedgerows.

Although they will happily mix with birds of other species, after a male and female have paired up the male becomes very protective and will vigorously chase off other suitors. Such squabbles can often end with a fatality. Nesting takes place in March and April, when 3 to 5 eggs will be laid.

Annually Frequent visitors to the garden.

Fieldfare Fieldfare


Turdis pilaris

The Fieldfare is a member of the Thrush family. It tends to be a winter visitor species from Scandinavia and northern Europe that over-winters in the UK in large flocks from September to April, although limited breeding in the UK has been recorded mainly in northern Scotland.

They are a gregarious species and during the winter months large numbers are often seen in farm pastures foraging for insects and worms, and in orchards for windfallen fruit and berries. They are also a nervous species and any disturbance will usually cause the whole flock to dramatically flush into the air - thus limiting closeup photography!.

Apart from the grey head and rump and the dark tail, the upper body and wings are mainly chestnut brown. The under body and wings are pale and the breast is densely spotted but with less prominent spots than seen on the Thrush. The sexes are virtually indistinguishable.

Numbers seemed to be down in January 2015 but that could well have been due to less severe winter weather than normal in their home territories.

14.03.2004250 in Hay Meadow. Stayed for an hour.
18.03.2004300 in Hay Meadow. Stayed for an hour.
25.03.2005500 in rough pasture TF303 663. Stayed for 90mins.
30.03.2006300 in fields south of Protected Roadside Verge.
12.01.2015 A flock of 80+ were flushed from adjacent pasture.
16.01.2015 Only one or two straglers remain and they seem less nervous.

Redwing Redwing


Turdis iliacus

The Redwing is a member of the Thrush family. It tends to be a winter visitor species from northern Europe that over-winters in the UK from September to April, although limited breeding has been recorded mainly in northern Scotland.

They can be a gregarious species on open farmland during the winter months foraging for insects and worms, but can also be seen as singletons in urban gardens and wayside hedges feeding on berries. When in a group, when one flies, they all fly, just like the Fieldfare. But, on their own in ground cover, to me, they appear to cautiously weigh up the options before deciding on their escape route.

Physically, they could be mistaken for a small dark thrush. But, the distinguishing features of a distinct pale line above the eye and a a dark red patch on the side of the chest that protrudes from under the folded wing are diagnostic markers.

25.04.2010 A single bird seen on the fringe of a small urban carpark.



Garrulus glandarius

The Jay is described as a 'common' species in England, Wales and southern Scotland but, since it favours woodland habitats, it is not often seen. However, its unique plumage ensures that it is not likely to be mistaken for anything else.

Unless you come across them during the mating season, when several of them might be seen together 'strutting their stuff' and going through communal mating rituals with head feathers raised in crests, they tend to be seen as pairs or solitary birds intent on maintaining a low profile. At 14 inches long, it is a quite a substantial size, about midway between a Blackbird and a crow.

They are single brooded, laying up to 7 eggs through April and May. Their diet is wide ranging from insects, snails, slugs and worms, to eggs, young fledglings, frogs, grain, peas, fruit and nuts. The latter often being buried, squirrel like, in leaf litter as a winter store.

30.04.2013 One, a rare garden visitor, spent some time at ground level under the seed feeder



Arenaria interpres

The Turnstone is a winter visitor to UK coastal shores when it's summer breeding grounds in the arctic regions of Iceland and Scandinavia freeze over it's normal feeding areas. It searches for small crustaceans and other aquatic lifeforms along the shoreline by systematically turning over pebbles , shells and seaweed - hence it's common name.

It is a member of the Plover family and is about the same size, about 9" long, as the more common Lapwing.

I came across a pair at the Atlantic Seal pupping ground at the Donna Nook, Lincolnshire coastal nature reserve, in November. They were supplementing their diet by feeding on seal pup afterbirth - not a lot goes to waste in Nature.

29.11.2012 A pair seen on the beach at Donna Nook, a Lincs coastal nature reserve.

Valid XHTML 1.0!