Posted by: braddenvillage | July 15, 2010

Birds to look out for in Summer – by Mike Tubb

SUMMER

Introduction

Summer is a very interesting time for watching birds. Whilst diligent parents may well be sitting on eggs for the second or third time this year, young fledglings are now making their own way in life. It is that time of year to ease off the accelerator a little when driving, as many youngsters will not have yet learnt that roads and traffic can be dangerous. They need to build their awareness of dangers out of the nest, just as little humans do. Road verges provide a source of food to many birds these days, as supplies of insects are less numerous on intensively managed crops.

As the youngsters spread their wings, and as parents look ever further afield for additional food for the young they are still feeding, this season can bring close sightings of species with which we are less familiar. In the recent past, I have seen adult Linnet, Yellowhammer, Nuthatch, and Tree Sparrow feeding young in my garden. These are all species which are not usually easy to see, or very common around human habitation.

Additionally supplies of young inexperienced birds may arouse the interest of birds of prey, also trying to raise broods of their own. Look out for Hobby chasing flocks of hirundines, or Carrion Crow working on any easy picking road-kill.

Debate has raged among the experts in previous years as to whether we should continue to feed the birds through the summer. There is a school of thought that maybe we are making birds lazy by doing this, but the conclusion has always been that we should continue to provide food all year round. This will in the long run provide them with a better chance of successful survival, and will be responsible for keeping numbers up locally. But do please remember to keep your feeders clean to prevent the spread of diseases which birds catch from eating at feeders where there is a build up of droppings.

Also do remember not to cut back your shrubs and hedges until August, which will allow nesting species sufficient time to fledge without disturbance. If you have to do it before then, please make it a very light trim, thus maintaining adequate remaining cover for birds within.

Starlings

This is a relatively familiar bird, but one that is in massive decline numerically. In years gone by it was not exceptional to see flocks of many hundreds of birds foraging in fields or gardens. Five or six years ago flocks of dozens could still be seen, but today you will be lucky to see those sort of numbers.

The Starling is noteworthy at this time of year because young starlings are very different in appearance from their parents. Whilst the adults are blackish with green and violet tints in the plumage, with some light coloured speckles, the young are plain grey-brown without any specks. The bill of the young birds is dark as opposed to pale in the adults.

Starlings walk quickly with rather jerky movements – so look for similarities in behaviour to help your identification. Starlings may be separated from Blackbirds, with which they may easily be confused, as Blackbirds hop rather than walk and generally move around a little less quickly than Starlings. Juvenile Blackbirds also tend to be rather paler and plainer brown than the adult female, so the clincher of course would be to see an adult bird actually feeding its offspring.

Around Bradden we have a number of breeding Starlings. Nest sites include holes in trees, generally where made by a falling branch or by another species, and in holes or crevices in houses or barns. This is a relatively noisy bird with a wide range of calls, squeaks, and whistles. It is also a great imitator of other bird species – so beware! Your friendly neighbourhood Starling may not be as rare as he sounds! Look out also in late summer as the juveniles begin to gain their adult plumage; some comical combinations can be on show.

Woodpigeon

Not a lot of people have anything good to say about this bird. It is one species that is not declining in numbers, and can be a voracious eater of crops, both farmland and domestic. It is vociferous, singing its “Take two coos, Taffy” song from rooftops and garden trees. It nests locally and is generally becoming less shy, now much more common in gardens than in previous times. It can also be messy, often perching in regular positions, and if one happens to be over your back door or favourite seat, you will soon know about it. Don’t leave any splodges on your car for any length of time as the mess can be stubborn and corrosive.

Woodpigeon need no second invitation to make a nest and lay eggs, doing so for all but the coldest months of the year. In the village we have nests in trees in domestic gardens, and around the fringe of the farmland, as well as in woodland. Its nests are usually an untidy platform of sticks and twigs, and it is not unknown for eggs to drop through occasionally.

Do take a close look at this bird though – it does have some good points, apart from being tasty to eat that is! Its plumage is quite beautiful. The breast has pinks and violets, which show magnificently in good light conditions, the back of the head has a small patch of green that can look almost emerald, and when viewed closely even the patch of white on the side of its neck can appear dappled. Not a bird to be dismissed lightly then.

Take a close look also at its courting behaviour. It often does this in open, well visible positions, so you don’t need to pry! I have witnessed pairs hopping around each other, apparently flirting, for a minute or two, then tenderly clasping each other’s bills, seemingly trying to put their tongues down each other’s throats, again for some little time, before eventually sealing the deal!

Young Woodpigeons are a little smaller (as you might imagine), do not have the white neck patch, and are generally rather more grey than the adult bird. This can make them easily confused with a Stock Dove, several pairs of which breed in the farmland near Bradden. Stock Dove is more like a Feral Pigeon in size and shape, and flies rather more quickly with a flicking wing-beat. They are much more shy than Woodpigeon and are therefore less likely to be found in domestic gardens, even those in rural situations.

Yellowhammer

Always near the end of guide books – not because it begins with the letter y, but because in the scientific order of species it was a late developer! A member of the bunting family.

Young Yellowhammer can be a source of bafflement, even among keen birdwatchers. It is the archetypal “little brown job”, small, difficult to see and even less easy to describe its colouring. Unlike the adult male, which has a highly noticeable bright yellow head, with lemon underneath, and reddy brown flanks and breast, the young are almost totally streaky brown, with little hint of yellow or other distinguishable colour. Fledgling Greenfinch is a species with which young Yellowhammer can be confused. They are approximately the same size, have hints of yellowy green in the plumage and are also streaky or speckled on the breast. Try and check out bill size, which will be smaller on the Yellowhammer.

Yellowhammer is a species which has declined massively in numbers of late, principally due to changes in farming methods. Its song – the well-known “little bit of bread and no cheese” – is now unfortunately not nearly as common as it used to be. However, we do still have a few pairs dotted about Bradden Estate, and they are likely still to be breeding.

One summer three or four years ago, I was lucky to see a female with her brood of four or five youngsters being taught to glean the seed-heads from weeds in my garden. This says as much about the cleaner state of the local fields as it does about the state of my garden!!

Chaffinch

Another common species with potentially confusing young is the Chaffinch. Adult males are resplendent and easily recognised with pinky-red breast, slate grey head, two white wing bars or flashes, and tinges of green on the greyish rump. Females are more drab, but pleasantly varied with buffish whitey grey plumage on the breast, grey-green on the back, and traces of white wing bars. Juveniles, however, although looking more like their mothers, can be mistaken for female or young House Sparrows. This is because their plumage is not always as distinctly coloured, and certainly in my garden, young of both species seem unafraid of mixing together on the feeders. In normal circumstances, you might expect the species to flock broadly with their own kind.

Chaffinch is now one of the most numerous species, and is certainly very common around our village. It breeds in gardens as well as farmland and more open woods, preferring to build in a fork in a tree, disguised with moss and lichen. Its rattling song is fairly loud and is consequently one of the most often heard and easily recognised. A call of “pink” is also commonly heard.

Hobby

Attracted by the dragonflies, and also the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins that we are fortunate to have around the village, the Hobby often puts in an appearance at this time of year. Look for it on hot summer evenings when flocks of the hirundines have been increased by the presence of young fledglings. It is very agile in the air and catches most of its prey on the wing.

This is a summer visitor to this country, wintering in Africa. It is a medium-sized falcon, and has a profile very similar to the Swift, i.e. scythe shaped. Apart from long, relatively pointed wings, and a medium sized, blunt ended tail, its most notable feature is its “red trousers”. In size, it is several times larger than a Swift – so can be separated visually.

Hobby are most at home over marshes or wetlands, but can occasionally be seen sitting on a post near a river on the edge of our village. They catch dragonflies with their feet and pass them up to the bill to eat in flight. Whilst doing this, they can appear to be relatively relaxed fliers, but can be quite frenetic when chasing Swallows or House Martins.

Each year I usually catch sight of one over the village, my attention normally called first by the alarm cries (high pitched screaming) of the Swallows. Birds under attack will normally form a flock as a means of defence, so the resulting chase can be quite a noisy affair, but the speed with which it all happens means that it may not be in sight for very long. N.B. Don’t confuse this with a flock of Swifts, which have a screaming call, and which tend to form flocks on warm summer evenings seemingly as a social activity prior to roosting. This species is resident around the village and may be seen most days.

Identification

Remember to use the on-line field guide if you need help with identifying particular species.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE FIELD GUIDE

Your sightings

Don’t forget that we are keen to capture all interesting bird sightings from Bradden and the surrounding area. Please remember to let us know what you have seen using the comments box below.


Responses

  1. What a well crafted article by someone who obviously cares so much about a subject on which they are extremely knowledgeable. Thanks Mike!


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