Big Garden Birdwatch – Starling

Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head, triangular wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens.

Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. Noisy and gregarious, starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks.

Still one of the commonest of garden birds, its decline elsewhere makes it a Red List species.

In the winter months, at dusk, Starlings gather together in huge clouds over their roosts and swirl around in what we call “murmurations”. This is an incredible spectacle and you can see them at this time of year at Fairburn Ings on the edge of Leeds.

  • What does “gregarious” mean?
  • Find out what a “Red List species” is.

Big Garden Birdwatch – Blackbird

The males live up to their name but, confusingly, females are brown often with spots and streaks on their breasts. The bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring make adult male blackbirds one of the most striking garden birds. One of the most common UK birds, its mellow song is also a favourite.

Earthworms are a favourite food for blackbirds. They are able to hear movement just beneath the ground’s surface and hunt by cocking their head, listening carefully. They also eat other insects, caterpillars, fallen fruit and berries, foraging on the ground and in the undergrowth. You can often hear blackbirds in hedges and undergrowth flipping fallen leaves as they search for food beneath.

  • What do we mean when we say a song is mellow?
  • What do we mean by “cocking their head”?
  • Why do Blackbirds find it difficult to find earthworms at this time of year?

Big Garden Birdwatch – Great Tit

The largest UK tit – green and yellow with a striking glossy black head with white cheeks and a black stripe down it’s yellow front. It is a woodland bird which has readily adapted to man-made habitats to become a familiar garden visitor. It can be quite aggressive at a birdtable, fighting off smaller tits. In winter it joins with blue tits and others to form roaming flocks which scour gardens and countryside for food.

The Great Tit has a wide range of songs and calls but it is best recognised by it’s two note song that sounds like it is calling “Tea-cher, Tea-cher”

  • What does “scour” mean in the phrase “scour gardens”?

Big Garden Birdwatch – Magpies

With its noisy chattering, black-and-white plumage and long tail, there is nothing else quite like the magpie in the UK. When seen close-up its black plumage takes on an altogether more colourful hue with a purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing feathers and a green gloss to the tail.

Here you can hear a Magpie chattering with a scared Blackbird in the background making it’s alarm call.

Magpies seem to be jacks of all trades – scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers, their challenging, almost arrogant attitude has won them few friends.

You can see lots of Magpies around Leeds. They make a lot of noise and are omnivores and scavengers.

  • What is an omnivore?
  • What is a scavenger?
  • What is a predator?
  • What does iridescent mean?
  • What is a “jack of all trades”?

There are lots of superstitions about magpies – see if you can find out more.

“One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret
never to be told”

Well-known rhyme about Magpies

Big Garden Birdwatch – Robin

The UK’s favourite bird – with its bright red breast it is familiar throughout the year and especially at Christmas! Males and females look identical, and young birds have no red breast and are spotted with golden brown. Robins sing nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights – listen to this recording to learn what a robin sounds like.

You will probably find this one of the easiest birds to identify and one of the birds you can get closest to, some people can get Robins to eat out of their hands!

  • What does “aggressively territorial” mean?

Big Garden Birdwatch

When I was a small boy (a long, long, long time ago in the last century!) I was a “Young Ornithologist” – that is, someone who watches and studies birds.Bird watching is still one of my favourite pasttimes.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) run a Big Garden Birdwatch every year where they encourage people to identify and count the birds in their garden for an hour sometime on the last weekend of January.

This is a great opportunity to learn a bit about the birds that live around you, they are AMAZING! Why not take part?

The RSPB website has some great suggestions to help you attract birds to your garden or window sill and how to identify them. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • put out different types of bird food to attract different types of bird (but NOT bread!)
  • draw a picture of the birds you see, make a note of their features eg red breast, black eye stripe, shape of their beak, etc
  • ask your family or look up birds in a book or on the Internet to help identify them
  • see which bird prefers which food
  • keep a record of your observations

Do share with us what you find out and we will publish some of your pictures and findings on this blog.

Red Kite (c) Paul Magnall

You may see Red Kites flying over your garden but you would be very lucky to have one land in your garden!

Here is a useful leaflet to help you with the more common birds you might see in your garden.