The coming of spring is usually announced by the bright calls of birds nesting and foraging around your home. For many, birdwatching is a favoured pastime, and a flourishing garden can attract many different species. Of the almost 10,000 different species of birds worldwide, the United Kingdom is home to 576, according to The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World. Here are some tips that British "birders" can use to identify the many species of birds that commonly visit British garden areas.
Blackbirds are one of the most common British garden bird varieties, and call every inch of the British isle, including Ireland, home. The mature blackbird has a glossy plumage which appears black on males and dark-brown on females. Female blackbirds also have greyish-white speckles around their chests. The male blackbird has an orange-brown bill, while the female's bill has a yellowish-brown colour. The mating call of the male blackbird covers a wide pitch range, and males only use the call between February and July, the breeding season, every year. The female blackbird will lay two to three clutches of about five eggs each while nesting, which can last 20 to 38 days. Blackbirds will feed on worms and other insects throughout the year, as well as cotoneaster berries or fallen fruit during the fall. Most blackbirds reside in their native locations all year long, although some will migrate to the south of Britain.
The blue tit is one of the smallest British garden bird varieties, measuring only 11.5cm in length with a maximum wingspan of 20cm. The blue tit has a bluish outer plumage with a yellow chest, and white cheeks with a black eye stripe. Female blue tits are slightly smaller and paler in colour than their male counterparts. The blue tit call is a high pitched rhythmic twitter, moving from a high tone to a slightly lower tone. They inhabit all of Britain, except for the Hebrides. The blue tit feeds mostly on caterpillars and spiders, and enjoys roosting at bird feeders. Breeding females will nest almost anywhere, including trees, walls and even letter boxes. A female blue tit nests for anywhere between 27 to 39 days, generally laying one clutch of about 10 to 12 eggs. A blue tit rarely migrates further than a few kilometres away from its birth place.
The wood pigeon is Europe's largest pigeon, measuring 40 to 42cm in length with a maximum wingspan of 80cm. Wood pigeons have a very full plumage and a distinctive waddle that make many believe that the bird appears overweight. The wood pigeon is mostly grey, with a dull orange beak and a white, green and purple patch that appears on their necks. Their legs are skinny and pink, and their tails end in black tips. In contrast to many other birds, the wood pigeon has a mellow, low-pitched call. The call is comprised of five notes, which many remember by thinking, "Take two coos, Taffy." Wood pigeons are not picky eaters, and will drink excessively. Unlike other birds, wood pigeons will keep their heads down while they drink, using their beaks as straws. Nests are built out of twigs, and nesting periods can last 46 days or more. Females lay two eggs per clutch and three clutches per season. Although the wood pigeon travels between roosting and feeding areas throughout the day, their seasonal movement is minimal.
Feral pigeons, although classified as a garden bird, are usually found in cities and other heavily populated areas. Feral pigeons are the urban counterparts to rock doves, and much like rock doves will make their homes on cliffs, feral pigeons populate ledges, balconies and other urban structures. A feral pigeon has a bluish-grey plumage on the head, neck and chest, fading to a paler grey on the back. The neck has an iridescent greenish-purple patch, and two black stripes cross over both of the wings. The call of the feral pigeon has a higher pitch than the wood pigeon, but a softer volume. Nests are made out of twigs, and are generally found on ledges. Their nesting periods last 37 to 47 days, producing two clutches of one or two eggs. Feral pigeons will eat anything from seeds to grain to kitchen scraps.
The house sparrow has been classified as a Red List species by the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Birds of Conservation Concern. Populations of house sparrows have declined as much as 60 per cent over the last 20 to 30 years. The male house sparrow has a dark bark with a greyish chest, underbelly and cheeks. The female house sparrow is covered with brownish-grey down, with clearly defined wing feathers in varying shades of brown. Younger house sparrows all look like the female gender until the males begin to mature. The house sparrow's call is a piercing collection of chirps that has a mid-range pitch. Their diet consists of a wide variety of seeds, scraps, berries, insects, nuts and other readily available substances. Breeding females will nest in nest boxes or other small crevices, and have been known to evict blue tits from their dwellings. House sparrows nest very close to their birth place.
Starlings are generally thought of as greedy birds, and they are found throughout England all year long, except for the northern parts of the isle. The starling has a black plumage that contains some iridescent green and purple throughout. Both sexes have white speckles near their wings and rump, although females have more. As the summer comes, the iridescent parts of the starling's plumage brighten dramatically, creating a multicoloured effect. During winter, the bright colours dull and fade, and the white speckles appear more noticeably. The starling call is varied, and they can easily mimic a variety of sounds. Starling nests are built from grass and can be found in trees or medium-sized holes. Nesting periods last as long as 37 days and can produce two clutches of four to nine eggs each. Adult starlings will eat any readily available food, but feed their nestlings only worms and insects. Starling populations have been rapidly declining, and the starling is also listed on the BTO's Birds of Conservation Concern (see Resources).
British Garden Birds
British Garden Birds is an award-winning website dedicated to information about British bird watching (see Resources). The site is run by David Gains, a birdwatching enthusiast and a Life Fellow of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. His website lists valuable information about calls, breeding, diet and distinguishing factors for 100 different garden birds, as well as field trip reports informing naturalists where they can find their favourite birds. This website can be used as a very valuable resource for British birdwatching enthusiasts.