Thursday, 6 December 2012

In the garden again

Following on from my Tuesday blog and the snow of the last two days, there has been an increase in activity in our garden.

This morning, a single female Blackbird was competing for food with thirteen males. She was later joined by another female. For a period of at least three years we had a very distinctive female Blackbird gracing our garden. She bred in or around our garden in three consecutive years and raised at least seven broods. She remained around the garden all year and gave any other Blackbirds who ventured in her space a lot of stick, irrespective of how many others were present.

Female Blackbirds are usually described as brown, with little other comment. Particularly when seen at very close range; I’ve had the privilege of having one feed from my hand; their markings and shape make them as attractive as many birds with five times as much colour. Ask a child to draw a picture of a bird and it often looks like a Blackbird; they’re the perfect bird shape.

Our distinctive female was, of course, brown; very brown on her back, like burnt sienna in a child’s paint box. She had a large very pale throat patch and a fairly light breast, compared to the average. Today’s twosome had more typical plumage.

I tried to separate young and mature male Blackbirds, but thirteen of them hurtling simultaneously in different directions made an accurate count impossible. At least half of the males showed signs of brown plumage in their wings. All of them had yellow bills, albeit two of them had bills that were a duller, paler colour. A few stood out as being very, very shining black, with brilliant yellow bills.

Joining the Blackbirds we had five Chaffinches. I don’t remember seeing that many before; two males. They joined seven Greenfinches and two House Sparrows in the battle for the feeders. Both finches were visiting all of the feeders. Later in the day they were joined by a flock of around a dozen Starlings. Given that there are a total of eighteen feeding ports on the four feeders, it’s unusual to see more than half that number feeding together at any one time, in spite of what’s often shown on images selling bird food and feeders. I have, however, seen six Greenfinches together on our six port monster feeder.

A Robin and a couple of Dunnocks crept in occasionally to pinch some seed. A Jackdaw put in an appearance, grasping the edge of the hanging bird table with both feet and flapping furiously in an attempt to land properly. It succeeded on the third attempt, grabbing a quick beak full of seed and disappearing. A pair of Collared Doves, together with an occasional interloper who was hastily despatched each time, are regulars at the bird table and take spoil from the niger feeder as well as spilled seed from under the feeders.

It was fascinating to watch the Great, Blue and Coal Tits vying for sunflower seed amongst the finch scrum. It was bit like watching small private planes landing all of a hurry at an airport, in gaps between the airliners. Nevertheless, the tits always seem to get their fill in spite of the competition. Whilst the other species feed in episodes, with a lot of sitting around or visits to other gardens between feeding stints, the Blue and Coal Tits are at it most of the day. The Great Tits tend to visit irregularly.

Some many years ago, I remember reading an article about someone who set up a cage trap to colour ring and study the Blue Tits visiting his garden feeder. I can’t remember the numbers, but it was something like up to four Blue Tits seen regularly in the garden at any one time. The big surprise was that the number of Blue Tits ringed was around forty! Don’t assume that ‘our Blue Tits’ are anything of the sort. Long Tailed Tits are well known to do the rounds when feeding, but are more obvious in doing so, because they all come and go in a flock. A Blue Tit’s grand tour of the local eating places is more subtle and less obvious, barring an experiment of the sophistication that I have just described.

I suspect that the numbers of all of the different species that we see at any one time in our garden, are totally unrepresentative of the different birds using our feeders, even during any one day, let alone over the whole winter. Apart, perhaps, from the Collared Doves, who breed nearby, seem to stick as a pair (mutually preening and Pigeon kissing even in the snow) and frantically chase any other Collared Doves in sight.

I note from other Cramlington blogs that there are both Siskins and Bramblings around, perhaps we may be luckier this year than last. Now, if we were to have a Redpoll grace us with its presence, that would be a brilliant – I'll keep watching.

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