Friday, 7 March 2014

Garden Games

I have been spending quite a lot of time looking out of my window recently.  It is that time of year that my garden becomes alive with the sound of birdsong and the sight of lots of flittering wings all on a mission to defend their territories, find a mate, or build their nests. 

Normally at this time of year I would just appreciate the soulful sounds of the dawn chorus and enjoy watching the variety of bird life in my garden grow.  However this year I have decided to try and learn a bit more about the birds that I share territories with.

It's really very simple, all it takes is a little time and observation and you can soon see which birds are pairing up with who, which species or individual is more dominant than the other and roughly where these birds may be thinking of building their nests.  Anyone can do it really, even if you don't know your great tit from your greenfinch!

I've also been trying to distinguish males from females.  In some species this is really simple, for example the blackbird.  Male blackbirds are black with a bright yellow beak, females are brown with a dull coloured beak. 

Chaffinch this time of year are also really obvious.  Males have a pinky orange breast, grey head and quite striking black and white wings; the brighter the colours the fitter the bird. Females on the other hand are a light brown colour all over with just the wing pattern being similar to the male.

Male and Female Chaffinch
Images by Ron Knight and John Haslam

Some species however are a little more tricky.  The great tit is do-able but you may need binoculars and ideally you want the bird to be hanging off a feeder or similar to be able to see its underside.  Male great tits have a lot of black between their legs whereas females only have a little bit of black.  When you have seen both it starts to become a lot more obvious so hang on in there.

Great tits: female on left and male on right
Image by Shirley Clarke

Another common bird you can sex this time of year is the wren.  Unlike other songbirds the female wren has nothing to do with building the nest.  A male wren will build many nests which he then shows off to females, if the female is happy with one of the nests he has built then she shall move in. So this time of year when you see a wren frantically gathering nesting material it is almost certainly a male :)

Until next time, happy garden watching!

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