Saturday, 25 April 2009

News from the Nests

Dad’s Bird Journal, Blackbird page

The two nests at the bottom of the garden are now full of parental activity. The Blackbird eggs hatched at the end of last weekend and there are now three chicks in the bottom of the nest all growing quickly and even beginning to develop little feathers. The adults don’t seem to mind if I go and have a look within a few paces but the male will let me know if I get to close and will warn me off by performing a theatrical and noisy diversion in the garden.

The nest has been there for a while because Blackbirds can actually start breeding as early as February if the weather is favourable and it is normal for a pair to have up to three broods in a season but they don’t always use the same nest again. The nest is a rather untidy open cup built by the female from vegetation such as grass and twigs, and bound together with mud and finer grasses. I am surprised how low down it is and this probably accounts for the high percentage of Blackbird nesting failures. In fact, it is estimated that as many as nine out of ten nesting attempts end in failure and that 89% of these are caused by predatory birds such as magpies and crows and other garden killers such as cats. The Blackbirds have been successful in this location for the past two years however and I am optimistic about their chances again this year.

Other species like the Robin, Thrush, Dunnock and Wren are other common hedge nesting birds but based on the colour of the eggs I have now positively identified the second nest as belonging to a Dunnock and not a Sparrow as I first thought. In the bottom are four bright blue eggs that the female rarely leaves except when she is disturbed. The nest is built in dense shrubs and hedges and is lined with moss and hair, and built from twigs and grass. It is much smaller than the Blackbird nest and a lot neater too. The female sits dead still in the nest with just the top of her head and her eyes above the top as she sits ever vigilent and alert to danger. I mentioned before that Dunnock nests are favourites for Cuckoo squatters but I haven’t heard a Cuckoo around here for a couple of years now so I think they should be safe from this sort of intrusion.

Earlier this week I was driving through the fields near to where I live and I saw some birds in a freshly ploughed fields that I had never seen before (or perhaps I had but have never been sufficiently interested to take any notice). They were about the size of a Crow or a Rook but they were a striking contrast of black and white plummage and a long orange beak which they were using to prod the friable soil presumably looking for worms and other grubs. They looked out of place in the middle of a field and I guessed that they were shoreline waders but I couldn’t identify them from my book of common British garden birds because they are obviousl not common British garden birds. Later in the week I mentioned this to Nigel at work ( and he demonstrated impressive avian recognition skills and from my description immediately and correctly identified it as an Oystercatcher.

Oystercatcher’s as you might guess live by the sea on mud flats or on estuaries and live mainly on a diet of mussels and other small crustaceans but interestingly not oysters because their shells are much too difficult to break into and anyone who has tried to open live oyster shells will understand this only too well. Apparently they will sometimes come inland to feed and as the field is only about five miles (as the Oystercatcher flies) from the Wash then I suppose although I have never seen one before then it was not all that surprising to find them here and I was quite right, they were looking for worms.

The Oystercatcher by the way is the national bird of the Faroe Islands where it is known as the Tjaldur and their annual arrival on about 12th March each year is celebrated by the Faroese people as the beginning of spring.


sally louise petcher said...

Dad, i love the page out of Grandad's bird book!

Andrew Petcher said...

He liked birds, there are a lot more pages to come