Thursday, March 06, 2008

Garden Bird Watch - Update

I haven’t written much about birds lately, but there are always things going on in the garden. I normally make sure the bird feeder outside the glass patio doors is never empty. I have also tied two lard balls with seeds to it, so they hang halfway down to the ground. It is interesting to see which birds are light enough and agile enough to sink their little claws into the lard and at the same time eat from their foothold. As expected the smaller birds like Blue Tits, Long-Tailed Tits and Great Tits are frequent lard ball guests. The Greenfinches only occasionally try gripping the lard; instead they bully each other and other species on the feeder perches. Some of the aerial battles between Greenfinches are quite spectacular; it creates a yellow-green display like the flash photography they warn epileptics about on TV.

The top bird in the pecking order is still the Nuthatch though. Funnily enough it is not much bigger, if at all, than some of the other regular visitors. Maybe it is the dark, horizontal line across the eyes, making the Nuthatch look like a masked cartoon burglar, that is the secret.

One bird that has become a regular as well, is the Bullfinch, imposing and almost majestic in its bright red, although the female has more subdued colouring. They look like straight out of a Christmas card. Initially the male, who is the more adventurous, would sit on a branch and take in, study, the goings-on around the feeder. He would then descend to the ground and calmly eat some of the seeds that normally fall down from above. Every species has its own favourite seeds and sometimes discards the unwanted seeds by a quick flick of the beak. Often there are ten or so birds on the ground and only one or two on the feeder.

But lately the male Bullfinch has made it to the feeder itself. First you can see him sitting on an adjacent branch, eyeing up the feeder; he looks like he is measuring the distance to fly, the angle of the approach and most of all making sure there is no other bird around. He has the most cautious approach imaginable. The first times he tried, he actually failed. He seemed a bit clumsy, unsure of his own ability. But after quite a few tries over several days, he made it to the feeder, holding on for dear life. It seemed to be a genuine learning curve in action. Now he is very self-assured; he fights off even the big Greenfinches! He has turned into the Red Hulk all of a sudden, but he is still not all that steady on his feet; big-headed and macho perhaps, but not yet an acrobat exactly!

There is also a Blackbird couple, who normally nest in the tree next to the feeder tree, and they often share the food on the ground with a young squirrel, who does not seem to be interested in even chasing off the birds. In fact the female Blackbird is the more aggressive one; she regularly chases off other birds if they get too close.

Sometimes a bird, with whom I am unfamiliar, turns up. I wrote about a Firecrest in an earlier post; I had never seen one before, but my bird book helped me identify it. Lately a rather nondescript bird has visited almost daily. I have scratched my head, I have consulted my book, but to no avail. Last week I realised what it was, a Dunnock. Click on the link and you will understand my difficulties, I am sure.

Three other birds that I have observed in the garden and not knowingly seen before, are the Coal Tit, the Siskin and the Brambling. The Siskin looks like a smaller cousin of the Greenfinch; some more stripes on the sides and a black patch on the head. One thing that makes it difficult to determine what species a newcomer represents, is the fact that they do not always look like in the book! You have to approximate and average out, if you see what I mean. It depends on the season, the gender and the age of the individual bird. But it is all good fun, until a cat on the prowl scares off all my avian friends. I then retaliate by opening the door and frightening the feline fiend, who promptly flees off through the fir trees. Ms S sometimes points out that I am turning into my own grandfather, who used to feed the birds better cheese than they had on their own table! Nooo waaay!


traveler one said...

That was lovely... I felt like I was sitting with you for a few hours watching your bird friends, something I'd love to do!

Diane Mandy said...

Me too! You introduced me to a few birds I had never heard of before.

swenglishexpat said...

Traveller One - It is great lunch entertainment.
Diane - I have learnt quite a lot through the bird book. Just now I saw one which is either a female blackbird or a thrush. Have to consult the book!

Haddock said...

Another name for the Dunnock is the Hedge Sparrow. The female backbird is quite a bit darker than a song thrush, and smaller than a mistle thrush.

We don't get so many birds in our garden as our housing estate is relatively new. However as the the gardens mature and the trees get bigger we are seeing more birds.

swenglishexpat said...

Haddock - In Swedish we call the Dunnock "Iron Sparrow"; and I have decided it was a female blackbird. Thanks for your information.