Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tree sparrows

I hadn't knowingly seen a tree sparrow Passer montanus until nine years ago, when we had one as a garden visitor. More recently their numbers seem to have been increasing in the North East, after decades of decline, and they have bred in a nest box in the garden every year for the last three years. They are beautifully marked little birds, with their chestnut crown, black-spotted white cheeks and mottled wing plumage.

 We now have a small flock of about a dozen that congregate in an old weeping pear tree and they have become the dominant finches on the bird feeders in winter.

They are notably assertive birds and will regularly see off the house sparrows, whose numbers seem to be declining here. 

Tree sparrows have a fierce, almost brutal countenance when viewed head-on, and some interesting research has been carried out in house sparrows on the significance of that black bib under the beak. It's known as the badge, and the larger the badge, the higher the individual is in the pecking order and the more likely it is to secure a mate.

Conflict always ensues whenever tree and house sparrows share the same suet ball feeder - and the tree sparrows invariably dominate. 

Click here for an audio file of their song

Friday, December 13, 2019

Redwings: there go the holly berry Christmas decorations

Over the last couple of weeks I've invested a lot of time in trying to creep close enough to redwings to get a decent picture. They are extremely wary birds, so most attempts have ended in failure. The three pictures below were the best I could manage.

Then, three days ago, this redwing (below) turned up on the holly outside our front door, just ten feet from the window. I'd estimate that it must have consumed at least a couple of hundred berries. So many that sometimes it just seemed to sit on the branch in a dazed state, rather like me after a heavy Christmas dinner.. 

By the end of this week, aided by several voracious blackbirds, it will have polished off all the berries that we planned to use as Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Fieldfare feeding frenzy

Thousands of fieldfares, arriving from Scandinavia and Russia, have passed through Weardale over the last few weeks, gorging themselves with this year's heavy crop of hawthorn berries.

They have a methodical way of stripping off the haws, at an incredibly rapid rate.

First, the lunge ....

.... and then the grab ....

.... followed by a sharp twist and a tug to pull it from its stalk ...

.... then a brief pause followed by little toss of the head to send the berries down into the gullet. 

This one downed seven in under a minute

More about their feeding preferences in the Guardian Country Diary today