Friday, 25 April 2014

Skylark, Bullfinch and Spadgers!

Male Bullfinch - what a stunner!
I seem to have been on a run of early morning wake-ups over the last few days, but it has given me the opportunity to hear the start of the local dawn chorus. 

Rather surprisingly, well to me anyway, was that at exactly 4.45 am each morning, the first bird to kick off the show was a Skylark. With darkness still fully in command and only a hint of light in the sky, this little bird has ascended into the heavens to announce the start of a new day and proclaim that this little part England is his patch! 

As I lay in bed I was regaled by this wonderful song for a full 10 minutes,completely uninterrupted by any other sound, before eventually a Blackbird, Dunnock, Pheasant and Robin all joined in, seemingly as the organised chorus behind the soloist. Then it was the turn of the Song thrush, who never seems to start first, but continues his song relentlessly for three hours or so into the morning! He was then followed by Wren, Blackcap, Chaffinch, Mistle thrush, Wood pigeon and Greenfinch, with minor parts played by Great and Blue tits!

On another topic, I am lucky enough to have Bullfinches in my garden throughout the year. The male Bullfinch must surely have amongst the finest plumage of any British bird and they have always been one of my favourite species. I regularly talk to people who have Bullfinch visiting their feed hoppers to take various seeds, especially it seems black sunflower seed and sunflower “hearts”. I have to say "I'm jealous"!

Can I get my Bullfinches to even look at one of my hoppers? I have tried flat trays with mixed seed, seed on the ground, different perches attached to numerous hopper types and even though I have seen Bullfinch sitting within feet of these various feeders, never have I seen any of them eat as much as one seed!

That is until last weekend, when my wife casually announced that there was a lovely Bullfinch on the seed hopper.  I wandered over to the window to look at what would surely be a highly coloured male Chaffinch, only to find out that she was damn well right – it was a Bullfinch, and what is more it was a beautiful male in full spring plumage! Since then, both the male and female are regularly visiting the various hoppers dotted around my garden to feed on mixed seed.

So why now, after about 14 years of trying to persuade them, what has changed? Well, the thinking is that maybe it is a “learning” thing and that somewhere along the line an individual Bullfinch has to be shown what to do by another Bullfinch. This seemed to be the case when Blue Tits used to open the tops of milk bottles to take the cream off the top, it appeared that parent birds would take their young to the doorstep and “teach” them what to do to get the reward. 

Over the years, Goldfinch, Siskin and Redpoll all seem to have started using feed hoppers in gardens and certainly the Goldfinch is now a common sight at bird tables. Presumably they too went through this learning process. I fully expect that Bullfinch will soon be a fairly frequent visitor at feeders too, as this new “skill” is passed from bird to bird.

Talking of waking up early, I have to be up at the “Crack of Sparrows” tomorrow – an odd phrase, especially as House Sparrows always seem to be the very last bird to emerge from their slumbers! The reason for my early start is that I am off to the Extremadura region of central Spain, to immerse myself for a whole week amongst its magnificent natural history. I will report back on what I come across in a week or so's time!    

1 comment:

  1. I think you are absolutely right about Bullfinches learning this fairly recent behaviour of visiting bird feeders. I first noted the odd bird doing so in my Winchester garden a few years back. I feed black sunflower seeds. Since 2011 I have commenced a study on Adult survival of the species by marking individuals with white darvic rings engraved with black numerals commencing 001. The other day I fitted ring 151 which gives an idea of how many individuals I have handled in just short of 3.5 years. The interesting point is that from July onwards some adults bring their fledged young to the feeders. These are ringed birds so its a classic case of '"come on kids lets show you some tricks of the trade". Retrap data shows that some of these kids return in subsequent years. Those I do not see again have either been predated or dispersed from the natal area.