Birds like Blue Tits will have been trying to pair up for a few weeks now and in this mild winter they are very active round the garden this week, exploring possible nesting sites, like one of our nest-boxes, chasing off rival males and flicking their wings and tails in display-mode. They particularly like displaying around the Privet hedge, which is in the shade all day and so makes photographs hard on these dull days. Males will sometimes peck at the wood on the bird-box and their fast actions and pecking are thought to be a way to show their health and fitness to a potential mate. Conditions: Sunny interval followed by rain. Temperature: Max 8 Min 2C.
Messy Finches- there’s no getting away Finches are messy eaters, throwing seeds they aren’t interested in out from the feeders, and rapidly ‘shelling’ the outer cases of hard seeds, spilling them anywhere, in order to get to the nutritious, soft kernels. (See both habits in the photos). However all four regular species- Green-, Gold-, Bull-, and Chaffinch, and occasional winter Brambling, we get are well worth it for the beauty and fascination of watching them. I rigged up a special feeder arrangement by the window, which has a large plant-container saucer, hole drilled through the
middle, lodged on the pole, and that catches most of the discarded seeds. This saves them landing on the ground, which may attract rats, and means Robins etc can land on the saucer and feed on the bits. Conditions: Grey and still. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.
Goldfinches: In winter our Goldfinches gather together in large groups of up to 100 and they nowadays they increasingly feed in small ‘charms’ on garden feeders. In cold conditions they will sometimes migrate as far South as Spain but in this mid winter most stay around, and we have been enjoying them on our feeders. Winter is the best time to tell males from females, as only the males bill is long enough to feed on teasel seeds. During the Renaissance, Goldfinches were associated with the Passion of Christ, as illustrated in the Raphael painting ‘Madonna of the Goldfinch’, where John the Baptist is painted holding a Goldfinch. Christians believed at the time that the Goldfinch, while picking thorns from the Crown of Thorns, pricked itself and the blood of Christ fell on its head, rendering it red. Conditions: Grey and cloudy. Temperature: Max 5 Min 2C.
Great Tits: as we approach the shortest day, and birds of all kinds have less time to forage, the desperate scramble for food becomes more crucial to their surviving cold spells of weather. Great Tits, our largest species of the Tit family, rely on seeds through these conditions. While most Great Tits stay roughly in their areas of birth, some do travel from higher to lower ground but they are spread through the UK so wherever you live, if you can put seeds and fat out it will help them and other small birds that lose more heat per body weight than larger birds. In harsh conditions Great Tits can need to eat up to 44% of their body weight in a day in sunflower and other seeds. (Who does such research?! )
Conditions. Cloudy and with rain on its way. Temperature: Max 12 Min 7 c.
Just when I think there is nothing more to be gleaned from our Joseph Rock Rowan, a beautiful and acrobatic pair of Bullfinches turn up and expertly gather some of the last, now bletted but obviously still nutritious berries from the very tips of slender stems. As the tree is about 15 feet away from the window, the views, in yesterday’s welcome sun, were clear and bright. We have two pairs visiting at present, which I know is very lucky- a function of being near a wooded part of Sheffield centre and the fact that we plant for wildlife and feed all year round. Conditions: a welcome spell of calmer, brighter weather. Temperature: Max 10 Min 8C.
Robins in winter– Robins are one of a few birds that sing throughout winter in the uk. This is because they are particularly active in defending a territory year round but scientists in Bristol believe that us feeding Robins through the winter helps. Birds have a complex mechanism to manage their fat reserves, and Robins will only sing through the winter if they are well fed enough. They appear to be able to assess when they have enough energy to sing in the day, so a ready supply of food, and warmer nights means they are more likely to be heard defending their territory by their beautiful song
. Another reason to feed our birds. Conditions: A spell of bright, sunny weather. Temperature: Max 6 Min 3C.
Winter Thrushes– a survey of the six members of our Thrush family took place at the beginning of this decade. The six members are: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Ring Ouzel, and the winter visitors from Scandinavia, Europe and Iceland, the Redwing and Fieldfare. All species have shown a decline in the last forty years We have begun to see a few of the winter visitors among our resident population of Song and Mistle Thrush, and Blackbird in the garden. All love the berries on our ‘Joseph Rock’ Rowan. One of the findings of the survey bears out the importance of all berries, including Ivy, for the Thrush family in autumn and winter: feeding on trees and bushes begins to reduce around now, as fruits and berries decline, in favour of ground feeding, where all these birds can be seen rummaging around in the topsoil and turning over leaves to expose worms, Snails and invertebrates so plant trees and shrubs with late berries, keep the Ivy growing up a wall, tree or hedge, let it flower and berry, and don’t pick up all the leaves as they make a microclimate for insects and
bugs which feed our winter birds. Conditions: Dank, drab days of rain and cloud. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.