Posted by: braddenvillage | November 20, 2010

Bird to Look Out for this Autumn – by Mike Tubb



Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year for watching birds.

Visibility can become much improved as the leaves begin to turn colour and fall from the trees, and as the air becomes cooler and clearer.  Couple that with a range of different birds provided by that great mystery of migration – summer insect-eating visitors returning to warmer climes, and birds from the Arctic areas or Northern Europe drifting south and westwards to seek better food supplies and/or shelter from the harshest winter weather.

The trees and hedgerows in our countryside will gradually be stripped of their berries and nuts, their natural harvest, together with any remaining insects, so then the birds will need to come ever closer to our homes for supplementary sources of food.

You may wish to check that your feeders are not positioned too close to your window, as many birds are wary of movement and of close human contact.  Birds are more likely to use your feeders if they are away from the immediate environs of the house, and are fairly close to cover, enabling them to dart away from the Sparrowhawk, or next door’s cat.

Please also check the cleanliness of your feeders, as I have mentioned before the terrible diseases that can be spread to a number of species through contamination.  Aim to clean your feeders at least once a month right through the year.

Harsher weather may exacerbate the search for natural sources of food, so this is a time for extra vigilance.  A hard frost or a covering of snow, for example, may be the signal for a rarer species to be searching your garden for food, so it would be sensible to ensure that your bird-table or feeders are kept well regularly replenished at this time of year.

Blue Tit and Great Tit

One of the first signs of increasing avian activity at this time of the year is the increasing numbers of small tits flitting along the hedgerows.  Blue Tit and Great Tit are two of our most common resident tits, and numbers of both are supplemented in Autumn/Winter by visitors from northern Europe.  Although mainly woodland species both are now generally fairly comfortable close to habitation and are regulars at garden feeding stations.  In addition to peanuts, both will readily take suet or fat, black sunflower seeds or sunflower kernels.

Blue Tits are the smaller of the two and have a pale lemon breast, with bright blue on their heads and wings.  Great Tits are noticeably larger, more boldly yellow with black head and white cheek patches.  The breast of the Great Tit has a black central stripe down it, whilst the Blue Tit has a dark greyish black breast stripe of narrower width.

Coal Tit

Another resident member of the tit family, Coal Tit is associated more with coniferous woods.  Again, can become very mobile towards Autumn, when northern birds may move southwards, and continental birds drift into the UK to supplement the resident population.

This is a beautiful bird, which has increasingly been coming to garden feeders in recent years.  It is smaller than a Blue Tit and has a blue-grey back and a warm rufous or brownish white belly.  It has a black head a bit like the Great Tit, but with the addition of a small white patch at the nape of the neck.

If one does come to your feeders, you may be able to spot it by its behaviour. They tend to dart in to snatch a seed and fly off with it to eat it, or commonly to store it for later.  They are much less likely to stay on the feeders for a length of time than a Blue Tit or Great Tit.

Their call is a very high pitched, thin whistle, which with practice can be picked out from other members of the tit family.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

As I have said, this time of year is a great one for bringing less common species into the garden.  One bird that often goes AWOL from my feeders during the summer is the “Great Spot”.  Missing from the middle of July until almost the end of October, it begins to hanker after those tasty (and expensive) premium peanuts, that its mum and dad taught it to glean from my feeders in May and June.

One of three woodpecker species resident in this country, the Great Spotted breeds in parkland and/or woodland, mostly mixed or deciduous. Its diet varies according to availability, and it takes all manner of seeds and insects, as well as other birds’ eggs or nestlings on occasion, when it has hungry chicks of its own to feed.

Great Spotteds are Starling sized black and white birds, with small patches of red under the vent (or tail end), and also behind the head in the case of the male birds. They can often be distinguished in flight by the way they undulate deeply – but it is by no means the only bird to do this.

If you see a pied woodpecker that is clearly much smaller than this – more of the size of a sparrow – please inform the local hot-line asap.  You may have witnessed one of Britain’s rarest birds, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Green Woodpecker

This bird also makes itself more visible around the village at this time of year as it tries to hoover up as many of the remaining ants as possible from open grassland, and even domestic lawns. Strange that a bird with such a name spends so much of its time on the ground.

Green Woodpeckers are quite exotically coloured, being mainly olive green with a yellow rump, red crown, and black and grey markings around the head.  Like the Great Spotted, they have a deeply undulating flight, and fold their wings in completely between wing beats.

Known by countryfolk as the “yaffle” due to their series of loud laughing notes, they are always a lovely bird to see.  Their young can easily be distinguished in the late summer, being very speckled on the green back and being spotted with black on the under-belly.

Fieldfare and Redwing

FieldfareRedwingAnyone with windfall apples still underneath their trees, or prepared to put surplus fruit out in a corner of their garden, can hope to see Fieldfare looking for an easy meal.  This is a large grey-headed winter thrush, which looks spectacular when seen close-to.

Fieldfare has a distinctive chuckling call, and can often be spotted or heard flying over the village in loose flocks. They occasionally stop to rest in the large trees opposite the village green.

Redwing is a smaller thrush, and frequently accompanies Fieldfare.  As its name suggests, Redwing has patches of red on its body – not on the wings, but along the flanks.  They also have a clear, pale eyebrow stripe (or supercilium to give its correct term).  Another beautiful bird to observe at close quarters, shy but not uncommon in/around Bradden in autumn/winter.

Both of these species arrive in Britain in Autumn, and will remain until next March or April.  Just a few pairs of both species breed in northern Britain, but they are, in the main, winter visitors from northern Europe.  An interesting fact about Redwing is that it migrates at night.  Its calls – a drawn out hoarse whistle can often be heard at night from October onwards.


This woodland species is usually resident in South Northants but tends to become more visible in winter.  Siskin is a bird of coniferous woodland (during the breeding season), and its numbers are augmented by visitors from northern and eastern Europe from September to May.  In winter, when their favoured alder cones become scarcer to find, Siskin will frequently come to garden feeders – peanuts for preference, but also partial to nyger seed, and they will also take sunflower hearts.

Slightly smaller than a Greenfinch, with which it often closely associates, the male is contrastingly marked in green, yellow and with two black wingbars. Females are less colourful, but their streaky appearance, together with a more pointed bill, will mark them out from Greenfinch.  Listen for their fast twittering song in the tops of alder trees.  Goldfinches can often be found feeding alongside them.

House Sparrow

Most of you will be familiar with the chirpy House Sparrow. Sadly this species is now in massive decline, due to a combination of factors, which are still being researched more fully by the experts. However, around the village we are fortunate still to have a few pairs of House Sparrow, living under the eaves of our houses or in nearby bushes or outbuildings.

Autumn and winter offer the opportunity to study the plumage of these birds a little better as they come to our feeders, harsher weather and the exhaustion of supplies in the hedgerows necessitating greater reliance on us.

They are a stocky little bird with a fairly big head and a thickish bill.  The male has a brown back, streaked with black, and a couple of small patches of white; its crown is grey and it has a small black bib (much bigger in the breeding season). The female is duller and drabber, with more dull brown and buff on the back and head, and with no evidence of black bib.

In addition to crumbs from the table, these birds will also welcome proprietary seed mixes, and nut chippings.

Tawny Owl

Not so visible being nocturnal, but certainly more audible at this time of year, the Tawny Owl establishes its breeding territories from an early stage.  Calls can often be heard from the tall trees along Main Street during the autumn and early winter period.

Its main food is mainly voles and insects and it often perches lower down after rain to get easy pickings of earth-worms from roads and pavements.

Of medium size, it has broad rounded wings and a large head.  Fairly plain dark brown in colour.




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


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.


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