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Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Great Tits, Jackdaws, Magpies, Robins, Wrens

It’s like an episode of the Three Musketeers around here…

As in the recent BBC series. There are duels, there is sex, there are duels that look like sex and sex that looks like duels.  There is birth, there is death. No, I’m not talking about the action indoors, but of that outdoors, namely among the birds.

First the duels: Our yard has been divided, then subdivided by male blackbirds and robins. These are the territorial divisions we know of.  The dunnocks, great and blue tits, doves, pigeons, jackdaws, magpies, wrens probably all have their own intra-species territories which we cannot fathom.

The territories for the blackbirds and the robins all begin and end with the conservatory, out of which each morning food emerges. Namely, live worms but the seed, peanuts, fat pellets do in a pinch.

Is that my nemesis I spy with my little black beady eye? Courtesy of Tony John

Is that my nemesis I spy with my little black beady eye?
Courtesy of Tony John

The divide for the two warring robins is on either side of the tin of worms, and territorial incursions are frowned upon.  In these cases, it’s beaks and tails in the air and a lot of squawking. If things are not resolved, then there might be claw-acuffs:  fluttering in the air with claws locked.  However, if both combatants are reluctant to let things get too far, then they take their disagreement to the OK Corral: a log perch and a bench on either side of the territorial line but on the other side of the yard. If matters are still unresolved, then they proceed to the fence on our border with the neigbours’ wood.

The interesting thing is that in the midst of their scrap, they will all of a sudden start looking at their toes, turning their backs on one another, leading you to believe that things have been resolved only for the whole argument to start again.

Now, with the blackbirds, things are a bit different and then again the same. One black bird dominates the whole yard, and especially any place where there is food, primarily the worms.

“I can fit even more in my beak, just watch me!” Courtesy of Fred James [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Our blackbird overlord is a male; we haven’t been able to discern which of the females is his mate because he chases everyone out. We suspect he might be one of the juvenile pair bequeathed to us at the end of last summer, as his wings are still brown indicating this is his first real adult summer of mating.

Anyway, remember how cartoon characters (in the old cartoons anyway) used to chase each other around? Kind of with short, quick little steps? Well, blackbird territorialism begins a lot like that.  If you see a pair of blackbirds in your garden where one is closely following the other all around the place, it’s likely one is chasing the other out of its territory. Either that or they are mating. You never can be quite sure in bird world.

If the chasee really does not take the hint and will not stay away from the food, then claw-acuffs will follows. We have had a few of these interactions happen right in front of our eyes with the blackbirds and the robins, luckily with no one getting hurt.

One thing that looks funny to us but is deadly serious to the bird is when our resident blackbird will be chasing off an intruder with a full, more than full beak of worms, dropping them as he runs all over the yard.

Amour As I have noted above, the fighting and the sex really closely resemble each other. This is especially so in the case of the dunnocks. We have multiple groupings, flapping their wings, twirling their tails, chasing each other hither and yon. We have watched a pair of birds flapping and twirling on the neighbours’ garage roof, only to be joined by two others. Either this is tag team wrestling or something else I can’t mention on a family blog (for further explanation of the proclivities of the dunnock, see here

Feathering the Nest Of course, all this fighting and/or sex leads to home-building.  One of the most assiduous of home builders it would seem, the male wren builds a few nests to offer to females, kind of prefab houses which if acceptable the females take over and finish building. Here is our resident male wren in action, fitting out one of our decrepit nest boxes:

We haven’t noticed much more activity around this box, so we don’t think any female has found it attractive enough. We had a lot of attention from blue tits with our other two boxes, one of them with a camera inside. We were able to see nesting materials brought into the box, and the male pecking around the opening (it is usually the males who try to attract females to the prospective nests). However, not much action on the camera, and not much action outside either box.  So a bit disappointing.

It's not like they didn't have any help!  Homebase for Birds gift from Jo John

It’s not like they didn’t have any help! Homebase for Birds gift from Jo John

This is not unusual among birds, this interest in a site and then abandonment.  Elizabeth and Malcolm’s Blue Tit Pages is a wonderful diary of blue tit nests and should give you a good idea of what we are unfortunately not seeing on our camera.

From the “I told you so” department  Australian researchers confirm–prepare yourself- that female birds actually sing:

Darwin focused on the evolution of song through sexual selection and assumed birdsong was a male trait to attract females,” said Dr Naomi Langmore, from the Australian National University’s Research School of Biology, one of the researchers involved in the study.

“Our findings suggest that bird song may have evolved through a broader process, called social selection, as both sexes competed for food, nest sites, mates and territories.”

Darwin had suggested the primary role of female birds was to listen to the songs of the males, and instances of female bird song were traditionally dismissed as rare or the outcome of hormonal aberrations.   [where have we heard the hormones being to blame before??]

– See more at: http://lifescientist.com.au/content/life-sciences/news/female-birds-sing-songs-as-sweetly-242074514#sthash.k8YSPJDp.dpuf

But let’s not end on a bad note….er…

Spent a wonderful Easter weekend in London, and went home with some little treats, courtesy of Lola’s Cupcake cart at the entrance to the Tube at King’s Cross Station:


At least we have one nesting bird....

At least we have one nesting bird….



2 thoughts on “It’s like an episode of the Three Musketeers around here…

  1. It feels like you are describing most of what I am seeing in my back garden! Now at least I know this is normal. Unfortunately the Blue Tits did the same to me so far, showed a lot of interest in one of the boxes and then went away!

    Posted by yorkshirebees | May 3, 2014, 8:21 am

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