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Birds, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Great Tits, Jackdaws, Language, Latin Literature, Magpies, Robins, Starlings, Wrens

Did I Just See What I Think I Saw?

Moaning about the Weather

The weather is and has been what anyone in the UK would call ‘pants.’  Not just for the last day or even the last week.  More like the last two weeks with no end in sight.  It’s not just the rain, but the cold, winter cold.  We have had heating on, fires going for these past few weeks.  We can get through it, but my major concern right now are the bees, especially those in the second hive who were close to starvation only a few short months ago.  They had a chance to make a come back in the warm weather we had at the end of April, beginning of May.  But I am seriously concerned about the cold and wet.  If it is at all possible we will try to get a quick peak over this holiday weekend.  But with this weather, I don’t know.

Bees, in warmer days

Bees, in warmer days

But, the focus of this post is the birdies

And what they have been up to over the past few months, once they got shot of Fuzz (ok cheap shot, but I’m sure competing with them didn’t help things….).

As it happens, they have been up to quite a lot, these past few months being the beginning of mating, nesting, feeding. But none of them have grabbed as much attention as the dunnocks.  Now I wrote about their little key parties last year.  Last year, my knowledge was theoretical.  I wish I could still say that….

Dunnocks   (Prunella modularis)  Family Group: Accentor (Prunellidae)

Towards the end of April, there was a threesome. A very turbulent threesome.  While the female seemed quite content with this situation (and why wouldn’t she be), Dunnock male no. 1 wasn’t at all.  So, while she calmly munched on seed, he chased No 2 around the garden, over the garden, through the trees.  There was quite a bit of whirring brown bodies flying through the air.

Dunnock re-fueling

Dunnock re-fueling

But, that was not his only strategy for seeing off his rival.  As I wrote above, we had some relatively tropical weather towards the end of April.  I would drag the chairs out to work or read.  I was minding my own business, really I was.  But your attention would be deflected a bit if you saw a dunnock’s tail start to twirl.  Yes, she was a twirlin’ like a helicopter.  But, the initial reaction of No 1 was not arousal-well, it was arousal, but arousal of suspicion.  Apparently, he had not been the cause of that tail twirlin’, and he was not happy.   So, if you are a male dunnock , and your girlfriend’s tail is a twirlin’ and you are not the cause, what do you do?  Reader, I saw him apply his beak to her twirly bits, not just on one occasion, but on two separate occasions.  I wanted to pluck my own eyes out….  Please see last year’s post on this behavior while I have my counseling session….

Of course, it’s not all about warring threesomes with the dunnocks (although a lot of it seems to be).  About a week later,  while the two males continued to chase each other about,  the female was peacefully looking for nesting materials.  At first, I thought she was just picking at bugs among the gravel.  Then I started to see an accumulation of some very thin strands of something in her beak.  Upon closer inspection (with the binoculars) I saw that she had a big mouthful of hair, dark hair, hair of all the same length, human hair—-my hair!  A few weeks ago, my friend Nic had given my hair a trim out in the yard, on a nice sunny day after we had had a beautiful butternut squash risotto (if I do say so myself) with the rest of ‘the family’.  She had cut my hair on the grass, where I had left the clippings for a few weeks expressly for the birds to use.  Yesterday, was the first mow of the season and I duly mowed up the hair which seemed to have been ignored by the birds.  I had not even thought about the rather windy weather we had been having lately.  Obviously, some of the hair had been blown onto the gravel parts of the garden, where Twirly picked it up!  Let no one say I don’t do my bit for these characters!

It did freak me out a bit, and reminded me of the Great Twit nest we removed from the nest box last winter.  It appeared to have human hair in it as well, or at least quite a lot of animal hair:

You'll have to enlarge it to detect the hair

You’ll have to enlarge it to detect the hair

It hasn’t all been about the dunnocks…

Although for a supposed retiring, shy kind of bird (says the scientists, naturalists) they seem to hog a lot of attention.  The yard is a veritable aerodrome of feathery bodies wheeling in and out, grabbing beaksfull (or beakfulls) of worms.  Everyone is having babies, it seems.  Here is a list with Latin names:

Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) Family Group: Finch (Fringillidae)  This was the first pair we noticed flying off with a load of worms.  Of course, it’s hard not to notice as he is such a big mouth (hence, the nickname Mr Mouth) and she is so cute (you will remember Miss Thing of posts past).  And, of course, all the scientists/naturalists go for him with his russet feathers and blue-grey cap.  Her, they just call dull (I’m looking at you Springwatch presenters).  Her, I call cute and cuddly.  You will need to enlarge to see her little raised leg as she shimmies across the edge of the raised bed.

She's so cute!  Miss Thing side-stepping it across the raised bed

She’s so cute! Miss Thing side-stepping it across the raised bed

Sparrows,  (Passer domesticus)  They are relatively new and arrived in a large group.  They mostly stay in and around the hedge, but have started venturing over to the raised beds.

Magpies, (Pica pica)  Family Group: Crow (Corvidae)     I’ll not have a word said against them.  They are no worse than any other bird in their family group when it comes to eating nestlings.  We have had a nesting pair every summer, and they are fascinating to watch.

Blackbirds, (Turdus merula) Family Group: Thrush (Turdidae)  I used to love blackbirds, and developed quite an affection for two females, Chuckles, the tick-headed one, and Girlfriend.  But I had gone off them a bit this winter (that’s another post).  Now, they are growing on me again.

Blue twits, (Parus caeruleus) Family Group: Tit (Paridae)  These are the ones, I tell you. A rather small bird, but what a bully!

Looking all blue and innocent

Looking all blue and innocent

Great twits (Parus major) Family Group: Tit (Paridae)  Nested in one of our bird boxes as soon as we put them up last summer, and I had the great privilege of seeing their little tear-aways fledge.  It’s their nest in the picture above.  It looked like they were going to nest in the box again, or at least another pair of them.  But we are not so sure now, and as we are not able to sit outside, it’s hard to see whether they are heading for the nestbox or a tree near it when they are feeding.

Long-tailed twits (Aegithalos caudatus)  Family Group: Tit (Paridae)  We’ve had a pair come to the feeder which is unusual as they are ordinarily in a chatty little family group.  They remind me of little puff balls, so that’s what we call them.

So cute, but the blue-headed ones are beastly to them

So cute, but the blue-headed ones are beastly to them

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) Family Group: Starling (Sturnidae)  Big chow hounds at the feeder.  But we only ever see two, and they are another bird usually seen in groups.  We had a little nestling in our attic last year.

Robins (Erithacus rubecula)  Family Group: Chat/Robin (Turdidae)  Fuzz replacements so I haven’t even begun to warm to them.  Of course, they are cute when he is feeding her.  Tried to get it in the photo, but was always just missing.  Her begging for food does become a bit wearisome.  Between her cheeping and Mr. Mouth’s, one of them is for the KFC treatment, I tell you (only kidding, stop dialing the RSPB).

They love each other really

They love each other really

Other birds:

Pigeons:  I’m going to have to do another post on them as we seem to have different types, all of which tend to get on my nerves.

Wrens ( Troglodytes troglodytes)  Family Group: Wren (Troglodytidae)  [I have got to check this–is this really their Latin name???]  Haven’t seen much of them in the past few months.

Jays (Garrulus glandarius) Family Group: Crow (Corvidae)   Love this Latin name.  But the Magpies hate the jays more than they hate the jackdaws.

Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) Family Group: Crow (Corvidae)  They have started frequenting the garden a bit more, but are always on the lookout for the magpies.

Spring Watch

Starting next week.  For those not familiar with the show or my feelings about the show see the Rants section of the blog.  I was interested to see that one of the episodes will be about an allegedly affectionate relationship between a magpie and a jackdaw.  This I gotta see.

Look out for that tree! (George of the Jungle reference for the oldies)

You may have noted that quite a few birdy shots take place in the same weird looking tree.  That I believe is a twisted hazel  (Common Name: Corkscrew hazel Genus: Corylus Species: avellana).  It is right next to the oil tank and in back of the raised beds and is a favorite hang-out of the birds.  In the winter, it’s much easier to see their comings and goings as the tree is entirely leafless.  In summer, though, all we can see is the shaking of the leaves and branches as countless birds fly in and out of it.


I can’t imagine the person who would be desperate enough to copy, without discrediting, most of the photos on this site.  But every once in a while you will see some professional looking ones, such as the photos of the bees, the blue twits, and the long-tails which are courtesy of my friend, Tony John, who is also a baker and carpenter extraordinaire.  Thanks, Tone!

I’m going to have to check these Latin names again, as some seem pretty far out!


11 thoughts on “Did I Just See What I Think I Saw?

  1. I loved your post! However it made me laugh because I remembered that during my visit to London last summer I got a big laugh on the roof of Fortnum & Mason when I announced that I had a bee in my pants!! 🙂

    Posted by Deborah DeLong | May 24, 2013, 6:15 pm
  2. What an honour to have your hair selected for the nest! The weather seems to be good for the next couple of days, so perhaps that will help your bees out.

    Posted by Emily Heath | May 26, 2013, 9:13 am

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