Bird life in a cold climate by Martin Robinson

  • Bird life is struggling in these current harsh winter conditions and a day of birdwatching our feeders, reveals some interesting behaviours in how some bird species are adapting.

    The scene is feverish with birds constantly coming and going. The small birds such as blue tits, great tits and robins are feeding as if their lives depended on it - literally. The all-action blue tits congregate in nearby bushes at the front of our house to survey the scene to see if it is safe before they dash to the feeders. They retrieve a peanut or seed and then retreat to the safety of the bush again to devour it. Some individuals are bolder and will stay on the feeders for a few minutes, their desperation for food making them disregard potential danger from predators. The really brave ones will venture onto our window feeder, even if we are at the window, giving us a close-up view of their non-stop antics. Their hunger seems to make them more tolerant of each other’s company and the feeders will often be crowded with several birds at once.

    Some species, such as dunnocks, adopt different tactics and will scurry on the ground at the foot of the feeders, picking up the scraps that the other birds drop, flicking their wings constantly as if ready for take-off at a millisecond’s notice. A solitary young male blackbird, in its first winter and yet to acquire its distinctive yellow bill, also uses this ground-feeding technique.

    At the rear of the house the feeders attract robins. These birds are normally very combative, territorial and very intolerant of each other. Remarkably we saw four in relatively close proximity to each other. There was a bit of skirmishing going on but their priority at the moment is food, so a truce was called as they feasted on fat-balls, seeds and peanuts. The rear garden is the domain of a female blackbird and, like the male, she spends much of the time scavenging for scraps on the ground. The occasional nuthatch appears and is a very feisty little bird as it bullies the others into giving up the prime spot on the feeders. The occasional coal tit with its distinctly striped head also visits, and every now and again a family of long tailed tits appear, up to seven at a time, crowding round each feeder, constantly chattering to each other in order to stay in close contact. They often appear at dusk when most of the other birds have called it a day and there is less competition for these charming and unaggressive birds.

    Put up some feeders in your outdoor space and not only will you aid the survival of many, you will be rewarded with a wonderful display of visitors.

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