Embracing the Familiar

I know I’m not the only one gazing out of the window at the rain, or slowly pacing the kitchen trying to think of something, anything, which feels worth doing; anything which might engage the soul, or even bring the satisfaction of a job completed.  To save my sanity and get me away from my screens, I set myself a challenge: to see being at home every day as an opportunity. What could I do now that I couldn’t when I was off on trips every couple of weeks? 

Partial solution: set up bird feeding stations where I can watch and photograph, feed every day AT THE SAME TIME and record what I see. Discover the beauty in common birds; log their behaviour; learn about them.

So, now I have three feeder sites, all within sight of the window in the shed where I can watch and photograph whatever turns up. I will also, over a 45 minute period, record all the species that turn up and the maximum number per species at any one time. This will tie in with the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch next week. Timetable: 

10:00 Put out food:  peanuts, seeds, fat balls, meat scraps.

10:15 set up camera in shed and begin records

11:00 return to house with cold feet. 

At the end of the first month I had recorded 19 species. Here they all are in roughly the order in which they usually appear. For anyone interested, I’ve written about them in more detail below the last picture. 

Blue Tit

House Sparrow

Coal Tit

Starling

Marsh Tit

Chaffinch

Robin

Long Tailed Tit

Blackbird

SiskinGreat Tit

Jackdaw

Jay

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Collared Dove

Dunnock

Nuthatch

Pied Wagtail

Carrion Crow

Blue Tit.

Current population: 3.3 million pairs

This year there are less of them, but they are a constant presence and can exploit seeds, fat balls and peanuts. Like the other small tits they will pick up whole peanuts and take them away to eat. They don’t seem to cache them though.

House Sparrow

Current population: 6 million pairs

In this garden they have taken over the top spot from the Blue Tits.  I’m trying to love these characterful birds. They are so like us: resourceful, greedy, aggressive colonisers. They have pushed out the swallows which used to nest here and instantly took over a swift nest box which I carefully crafted and installed last year. I’ve blocked all their nest holes I can find, but they still see us as a useful resource and keep coming back.

Coal Tit

Current population:600 thousand pairs

Numbers seem to be rising, but it’s hard to tell because they are aggressive towards interlopers of their own species, so I usually only see two at a time. They dash in, pick up a peanut and dash off to cache it. One favourite place was just below the window of the shed, and a few days after watching one of them hide the peanut in the grass, I watched it search around until the nut was found and taken off to be eaten. Without some means of identifying individuals I can’t tell whether I’m seeing a procession of different birds or the same ones returning.

Starling

Current population: 2 million pairs rising to 8.5 million pairs in winter

Winter numbers have increased greatly in the last few years, and even Cilycwm has its murmuration. What is interesting though is that this year we seldom get more than 4 at the feeders. The big flocks are out in the fields. I’m tempted to think that these are native birds.

 Marsh Tit

Current population: 53 thousand pairs

This is the rarest of our feeder regulars, but seen as often as the Coal Tit, and it behaves in a similar way – darting in to collect seeds or peanuts and flying off with them. I’ve not yet seen any caching behaviour though.

Chaffinch 

Current population: 5 million pairs

Although they find it difficult to perch at the feeders, Chaffinches are good at hoovering up anything cast aside by the tits and sparrows. Numbers here seem to be increasing with two pairs active at the feeders

Robin

Current population: 5.5 million pairs

These garden favourites are so aggressive to other Robins that you seldom see more than one at a time. They can perch at the feeders with difficulty but usually stay on the ground.

Long Tailed Tit

Current population: 120 thousand pairs

A recent addition to the feeder crew, this is the only one that always comes mob handed. Of course in the spring they split into nesting pairs, but I’ve yet to see a solo bird in the winter. Our gang seems to be 11 strong. 

Blackbird

Current population: 5 million pairs

Characteristic behaviour is the short run along the ground, walk around a bit and then run somewhere else.

Siskin

Current population: 750 thousand pairs

They do apparently nest in Wales, but I have only seen them in late winter. 

Great Tit

Current population: 2 million pairs

Less dominant than they used to be. They feed in the same way as the small tits, but they are not a constant presence at the feeders.

Jackdaw

Current population:500 thousand pairs

A very common bird round here they used to be very regular at our feeders, but this year have seldom turned up. Why? One to watch I think.

Jay

Current population: 160 thousand pairs

Another fairly recent visitor to the feeders. They like scraps of meat but will also take peanuts and maize. Shy of humans they sneak in and dash off with the prise.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Current population: 41 thousand pairs

Very common visitor to peanut feeders

Collared Dove

Current population: 285 thousand pairs

These lovely birds began colonising Britain in the fifties, exploiting open sources of grain,  and are now very common.

Dunnock

Current population: 2 million pairs

Ground feeders: they don’t take food directly from the feeders but help clean up the ground below. Never more than two at a time.

Nuthatch

Current population: 140 thousand pairs

One of the species that has benefited greatly from peanut feeders, they are now regular visitors and take nuts away to cache them in cracks in tree bark.

Pied Wagtail

Current population:290 thousand pairs

There is at least one resident pair in the garden, but I’ve only recently seen them together at the feeders. 

Carrion Crow

Current population: 800 thousand pairs

Although the much hated crow is common, here they are shy and do not normally come to feeders. I put out scraps of meat to encourage the larger carrion eating birds, and was quite pleased when this pair arrived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Embracing the Familiar

  1. Nina Stenning says:

    Really interesting, thanks Dick. And, as usual, great photos.

  2. Sandra Hughes says:

    Fabulous pictures Dick. Interesting info on the different birds.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Sandra – I think it’s quite significant that a relatively rare bird like the Marsh Tit should turn up in almost the same numbers as much more common species.

  4. RICHARD S TURNER says:

    woops – should have put who I am!

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