Archive for Birds

For the Birds..

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on January 17, 2021 by telescoper

The Giant Robin of Newgrange

I saw the above picture of a robin on Twitter the other day and it reminded me of the one that visits my garden. I’ve never been quick enough to take a picture of him, but he’s every bit as plump as the one in the picture. If he were taller he’d be spherical.

The robin situation in my garden has seen an important development: another robin has arrived. The new one is smaller than the first and the first time I saw it I only noticed it because it was having a squabble with the plump one. I assumed it was a younger rival, but on subsequent days I saw the two of them together quite peacefully. Since male and female robins are virtually indistinguishable I wonder if they might be a husband and wife team? The fact that I saw them having a row lends support to this theory.

Another interesting thing concerned niger seed. I bought some of this a while ago, together with a feeder that purported to be designed for dispensing it. Niger seed is a fine oily seed very good for the smaller birds. Unfortunately the mesh in the feeder is too coarse and the seed just poured out as I filled it. I put the bag of seed away and filled the feeder with other stuff. Last week I remembered the bag of niger seed and decided to try putting some loose in the bird table. In no time a group of four chaffinches were tucking in. These were definitely two males and two females – the females are notably different in colour. Anyway, they love it – as do a number of other birds, including the robin(s) – and I’ve had to replenish the supply twice.

I usually wait until there don’t seem to be any birds present before going out to check the food supply, but this is a waste of time. Even if the garden appears empty, as soon as I go out there’s a whooshing sound and lots of chirps as birds that had secreted themselves in various trees and hedges take to the air to escape the scary human.

The birds provide a welcome distraction when I take a break from exam marking, as does writing a blog, but I guess I should get back to it now.

The Song of the Dunnock

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 6, 2020 by telescoper

It’s very cold and foggy today and there was a hard frost overnight, all of which wintriness made me go out and replenish the bird feeders. No sooner had I refilled and replaced the one that holds peanuts when I had a visitation from starlings, blue tits and even a jackdaw. There was a blackbird too, but that remained at ground level pecking at the frozen earth.

I was hoping to see my favourite garden visitor, whom I last saw a few days ago. This is the Dunnock (sometimes called a hedge sparrow, though it’s not a member of the sparrow family).

The Dunnock is a fairly drab-looking bird easily mistaken at for a House Sparrow at a quick glance. A quick glance is all you’re likely to get, in fact, because, although they’re not at all uncommon in Ireland, they are very shy. The one – I think it’s the same one – that visits my garden darts out from a hedge from time to time, grabs something from the lawn (presumably a bug of some sort), then darts back again and vanishes. It probably pays to be wary when you’re a bird that feeds on the ground. I’ve never seen it on any of the bird feeders, which contain seeds and nuts.

Anyway, I do enjoy seeing this critter when it makes an appearance. Although I don’t it very often I know it’s around as I hear its song very often. For a small bird it’s very loud indeed, and very distinctive. Here’s a recording:

That rapid-fire jumble of notes is very different from the song of a House Sparrow which is much simpler, consisting of a series of single notes at the same pitch.

Wrens are even smaller but are also very loud. As far as I know I haven’t had one of those in my garden yet.

Garden Variety

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on October 10, 2020 by telescoper

The modest investment I made in bird feeders when I moved into my new house in Maynooth has paid a considerable dividend in terms of entertainment. As well as a number of starlings and sparrows, I have quite a variety of more exotic species. The other morning, while I was drinking my coffee while looking into the garden before leaving for work, I saw a robin, a great tit, a blue tit, a chaffinch, and (I think) a hedge warbler*. And that was all just in the space of 10 minutes or so.

The show was then brought to a sudden end by the arrival of two jackdaws who scared everything else off and then tried to wreck the nut feeder.

I went outside and chased them away. I have nothing against the jackdaws – they’re actually rather amusing – but I won’t have vandalism in my garden.

The hedge warbler (or dunnock or hedge sparrow, although it’s not a sparrow) is not particularly rare in Ireland but is extremely shy and never gives you a long time to look at it. I’m pretty sure the bird I saw was one, though it was gone in a flash.

The local robin, by contrast, is not shy. I see him very frequently. I think it’s male because of the very bright red of his chest colour; females of the species tend to have colours that look slightly washed out. Male or female this one is very well nourished. In fact it’s so plump as to be almost spherical.

Anyway, all these birds (including the jackdaws) are passerine species, defined by the shape of their feet: they all have three toes pointing forward and one pointing backwards. The order Passeriformes includes perching birds of all kinds, from sparrows and finches to crows and a lot more besides. In fact over half the known bird species belong to this order.

Garden Birds

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 20, 2020 by telescoper
A blue tit at the peanuts

The previous owner of my house left a bird feeder in the shed so I decided to see what sort of birds would come if I put it up. The feeder has quite a wide mesh so I bought a sack of peanuts, filled it up, and suspended from one of the trees.

Almost immediately a group of starlings arrived and took turns at pecking at the contents. I know that some starlings are resident all year round, but there is an annual influx of migratory birds around autumn. It seems a bit early for the continental starlings which usually start to turn up in October. Anyway, they seem ravenously hungry but are rather messy eaters and keep dropping bits on the ground.

The principal beneficiary of the starlings’ messiness is a robin, whose tactic is to wait underneath for peanuts from above. It does not seem keen to attempt the acrobatics needed to feed directly from the feeder. Sparrows do this too, but not when the robin is around as the robin chases them off; robins are feisty little critters. This one isn’t afraid to have a go at the much larger starlings if they descend to ground level.

There are at least two blue tits that visit the garden but they rarely get the chance to get at the peanuts before being scared off by yet more starlings. The picture above is an exception.

To help the smaller birds I bought a second feeder with a finer mesh that the starlings can’t get into this and filled it with mixed seed. The blue tits have this to themselves but obviously like the nuts too and will go to that feeder if there are no starlings.

Yesterday one of the many resident jackdaws tried the peanut feeder but failed in its mission as it was too big to hang on.

So far apart from those mentioned above I’ve also seen a chaffinch and a great tit but mainly it’s been blue tits and starlings. Of course I’m not in during the day so there might well be other species of garden visitor that I don’t see.

I’m thinking of getting a third feeder (for fat balls, etc) but I’m told that around here that will just mean a garden permanently full of rooks jackdaws and magpies. Any suggestions for alternative feeding mechanisms that might attract a wider variety of birdlife are welcome!

The Birds

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on April 5, 2020 by telescoper

One of the far from unpleasant side-effects of the lockdown here in Maynooth is that you notice the birds much more.

For one thing the marked decrease in traffic means that birdsong a lot more audible, which is very pleasant; for another, some otherwise rather shy species are to be seen out and about. I saw (and heard) one of these critters fo on Maynooth Campus yesterday when I went for my daily constitutional:

It’s a song thrush. I’ve never seen one on the campus before. I’ve also seen various colourful finches from time to time.

The resident bird population of Maynooth University campus is dominated by various members of the crow family: Jackaws, Rooks, Hooded Crows, Magpies, etc. They’re still around but they live mainly by scavenging and there are far fewer people around leaving far less stuff to scavenge, they seem to be roaming farther afield. Yesterday, however, I noticed that a couple of Magpies swooped on the cat’s dish after he’d finished his lunch to see if there was anything left to eat. They must be hungry.

Outside my flat there’s a group of tall trees. Yesterday afternoon I watched from a window for a full twenty minutes as a rather large and clumsy Rook tried to balance precariously on a long slender twig right at the top. Why it didn’t perch on one of the thicker branches lower down instead, I don’t know.

It struck me as an excellent metaphor, but I’m not sure for what.

The Hooded Crow

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by telescoper

Although they’re less numerous in Maynooth than Rooks and Jackdaws, I have seen a few of these birds around the place but they’ve always been reluctant to stay still long enough to be photographed.

This is a Hooded Crow and it inhabits the same ecological niche as the Carrion Crow, which has all black feathers; a Hooded Crow looks a bit like a Magpie but instead of sharp black and white it is scruffy dark grey and off-white.

I’ve never seen a Hooded Crow in England or Wales but apparently they are prevalent in Scotland and Ireland. It used to be thought that Hooded Crows and Carrion Crows were just regional variations of the same species, but nowadays they are regarded as distinct.

Anyway, I wondered why this one was not as shy as the others I have seen until I looked down.

Realising that I was interrupting this one’s supper of fresh carrion in the form of a dead pigeon, I left him/her to it and carried on in my journey…