Sunday, 20 December 2009


Woodpigeons fill their crop with large meals and then they spend long periods resting and digesting.
I have recently discovered Woodpigeons' love of berries. Partly through reading a treasure-trove of a book "Birds and Berries" by Snow and Snow (1988), which I recommend to any bird-watcher. Since starting reading it I see things I missed before, just by paying more attention and 'expecting' things. While they carried out their detailed research on the interaction between berry-producing plants and berry-eating birds of the British Isles, the Snows discovered that Woodpigeons actually disperse many berry seeds. It was previously thought that pigeons crushed seeds in their muscular gizzards, together with grit they ate, and therefore acted as 'seed predators'. Although this can be true, it likely depends on the diet of the pigeon. Woodpigeons feeding on berries apparently do not ingest grit and many, if not most seeds are found intact in their droppings - and some at least have been proven to germinate after this. The Snows documented 711 bouts of berry feeding in Woodpigeons in 10 species of native plants. More than half of these were on Ivy (a total of  476), and many in Haws, Elder and Holly. Woodpigeons took both ripe and unripe Ivy and elder.
  I have been watching Woodpigeons feed on an ornamental hawthorn and a Cotoneaster near to where I work. There are a couple of sibling juveniles that feed on them and they are very funny to watch, doing acrobatics to reach the berries.
This one is almost upside down.
Ornamental Hawthorn berries

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

December songs

Spot the Blackbird subsinging
The sun shone today, a mild December day. A couple of Blue Tits busily searched through the thinner branches of the lime tree in front of the house, while a Great Tit sang enthusiastically between feeding on the trunk and thicker branches.
Later in the day I heard the beautiful, melancholic phrases of a Robin singing. Robins, being territorial, sing almost year round. And then, a mystery song. Quiet, almost whispered twitter coming from well inside a bush. I searched, a male Blackbird, hiding, singing to himself. During spring and summer, Blackbirds sing proud from top of trees, buildings, aerials - which must feel like singing from the top of the world for the Blackbirds of Hull. Somehow the birds in winter have this desire to sing, but cannot/won't do it in its usual way. This song is called 'subsong' and it is not completely understood why they do it. Some people argue it is the start of territory defence, with pair starting to form; others argue the birds are  practicing, as it can happen from young birds. It usually happens when there is plenty of food, and some time to spare, and what better to do with your time than a bit of music?
A singing blackbird in May

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Magpie Roost

The last few days in the afternoon I've spotted one or two Magpies in a tree in the street. Not that Magpies are not common around here, a few weeks ago there were no less than eight on a tree nearby - apparently the collective name is a 'tidings' of Magpies, bearers of good news.
It just called my attention every time they were in the same tree, an almost bare Maple. Today that happened again, so I went out when it got dark to check the tree. A full moon night, and there! the black and white bellies of two roosting Magpies!