Thursday, January 19, 2017

Eider duck courtship

I watched this little group of courting eider ducks at North Shields Fish Quay last week.

At this time of year the drakes are dressed in their finest courting plumage. Their feathers are so smooth that the birds look almost as if they are made of ceramic. 

Their main ploy for attracting the admiration of the females is to throw their head back, inflate that pink chest and emit the most delightful, comical cooing call, which sounds as though they are perpetually surprised. You can hear by clicking here.

Occasionally they flick water into the air with their beaks.

The females aren't always impressed and if the drakes get too familiar their respond by giving them a little nip with their beaks.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


When our kids were little they used to call goldcrests 'squeaky wheels' because their thin, repetitious, high pitched notes sounded like the squeaky wheel of the push-chair.

It will be about three months before goldcrests start singing and at this time of year, because they are quiet most of the time, and because they are so small, these little birds are easily overlooked.

They spend most of their time in conifers but this one was flitting around in a gorse bush, probably on the lookout for spiders - which must be hard to find in January. Sometimes these can be very approachable - this individual came within a few feet of me.

It's remarkable how closely the hue of the goldcrest's yellow crest matches the colour of gorse flowers.

Monday, December 26, 2016


I found this copy of H.G.Adams Humming Birds Described and Illustrated in an antiquarian bookshop many years ago. One of its hand-coloured steel engravings is missing but those that remain are exquisite. It was first published in 1856.

Henry Gardiner Adams (1811-1881) wrote several natural history books but not much seems to be known about him, other than that he was a chemist who eventually went bankrupt. 

The text describes the species illustrated but the best part of the book is a chapter written by C.W.Webber, who caught and bred hummingbirds in an effort to study their behaviour and diet. 

At that time there was a great deal of debate about whether these little birds could survive on nectar alone. Webber and his sister fed spiders to ruby-throated hummingbirds as well as nectar, demonstrating that their diet could be more varied than had been supposed.

You can download the whole book in a variety of formats by clicking here

Azure-crowned and White-eared

Double-crested and Violet-eared 

Tufted-necked and Delalande's 

Blue-throated and Amethyste 

Dupont's and Racket-tailed

Pigmy and Gigantic

Ruff-necked and Mango