Biodiversity - Birds

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BULLFINCH (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Although this is one of our most striking and colourful birds, it can be difficult to spot because of its secretive nature. It likes to remain in thick cover as much as possible and builds nests in dense thickets and thick hedges. They are a little bigger than sparrows but smaller than blackbirds.

Male (photograph by Alan Coe)
Male (photograph by Alan Coe)
Female (photograph by Alan Coe)
Female (photograph by Alan Coe)

Did you know? Bullfinches were (and often still are) regarded as pests amongst fruit growers and orchard keepers as they love to eat the buds from the trees, and so reduce the crop. However, where there is a good supply of ash tree seeds, such as in Churchfield, the effect on fruit trees is much less.

CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs)

The chaffinch is one of our most abundant finches, and will be found in a range of habitats. They are a similar size to sparrows but eat a wider variety of food including caterpillars, seeds, berries, and shoots. Chaffinches are largely ground feeding birds and you will often see them beneath bird tables and feeders. The males are strikingly colourful with a blue-grey head and pink breast.

Male (photograph by Alan Coe)
Male (photograph by Alan Coe)
Female (photograph by Alan Coe)
Female (photograph by Alan Coe)

A fanfare finish! Chaffinches sing mainly between February and June. You may see and hear one sat in the top of a tree near the church, singing with a series of descending trills and ending with a fanfare like flourish.

GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos major)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

This is the most common woodpecker in the country, but it is much easier to hear than see. It is about 9 inches, or 23 cm tall, and signals its presence in spring with its loud, rapid drumming against a tree branch. Woodpeckers eat insects and larvae, which they find under the tree bark, as well as seeds and berries.

Male woodpeckers can be distinguished from the female by the red patch on the back of the head.

Did you know? Woodpeckers have a tongue as long as their body. When not in use this remains coiled up in the back of the head but is extended out into deep holes and cavities to get to food.

JAY (Garrulus glandarius)

The jay is usually a shy woodland bird, but it can be seen in parks and gardens, especially in autumn when it is collecting nuts and acorns that it will often store away as a winter food supply. A bit like a squirrel does. There is a young oak in Churchfield which may well have come from an acorn dropped or buried by a jay.

With its vibrant colour it’s hard to believe that the Jay is a corvid. A family of birds including crows, rooks, and magpies. It is similar in size to a magpie.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

Eureka! Jays are highly intelligent birds and even seem to understand the Archimedes principal of water displacement. When food has been left floating out of their reach in a container, they have been observed selecting stones, which they then drop into the container. They will continue to do this until the water level has risen enough for them to get to the food.

KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)

The kestrel is a small falcon, about the size of a dove. They are famous for hovering as they search for voles, at the side of motorways and railway embankments. But kestrels will also hunt from a perch, such as a fence post, overhead cable, and even the Denby Dale viaduct, especially where there is a plentiful supply of food. Their main food is the vole, but they will also eat other rodents, worms, insects and even small birds.

Female kestrel on Denby Dale viaduct (photograph by Alan Coe)
Female kestrel on Denby Dale viaduct (photograph by Alan Coe)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

Did you know? Kestrels, like most birds of prey, have exceptional eyesight, which is key to their hunting success. A kestrel can see, and catch, a beetle a distance of 50 metres from its perch.

NUTHATCH (Sitta europaea)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

The nuthatch is a very distinctive bird that resembles a small woodpecker, with its plump body, pointed beak, stiff tail, and the way it moves jerkily up and down tree branches; often on the underside of a branch. It is the only British species that can descend a tree trunk head first.

Nuthatches live in woods where they feed on insects and spiders which they find in the tree bark and also on the ground. They will visit parks and gardens, especially in Autumn and Winter, when they look for nuts, seeds and suet from feeding stations. They very rarely travel far from the woods where they were first hatched.

Nuthatches can be difficult to spot, but they are one of the noisiest birds in the wood, making loud “tuit, tuit, tuit” calls, a loud rattling “Pee, pee, pee” trill, mostly in spring, and a strong varied song with whistling notes up and down a scale.

Glorious mud! Nuthatches nest in natural holes in trees, where they reduce the entrance size by plastering mud around it, so stopping larger predators from getting to the chicks and eggs. Even when they use a nest box with the right sized hole, they cannot resist plastering mud around the hole.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

The robin is one of the UK’s favourite birds. In fact, a vote of the general public in 2015, resulted in the robin being “elected” as our National Bird.

The robin is one of the few birds that sings all year round. In spring the song is used to attract a mate, whilst in autumn and winter the song is a warning for intruders to stay away. In spite of the Christmassy image these birds will defend their own territories quite fiercely. Even males and females take separate territories outside the breeding season. Even so, robins are excellent parents. The female will lay 4 or 5 eggs and both parents feed the chicks, but a male will continue on his own if the female has a second brood.

Robins eat caterpillars, spiders, and beetles; but in winter, when these creatures are scarce, they feed on berries and seeds.

Why do robins appear on Christmas cards? This tradition dates back to the earliest days of the post service. The first post men wore bright red tunics and they were often referred to as “red breasts”. They were always popular sights at Christmas when they delivered greetings cards and gifts. With the robin’s similar red breast, it was only a matter of time before they started to appear on our Christmas cards.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos)
Photograph courtesy of Tim Melling
Photograph courtesy of Tim Melling

A little smaller than a blackbird, the song thrush likes woodland or tree cover, or big bushy hedges for nesting and protection. Such as the hawthorn, holly and blackthorn hedge you can see around Churchfield. They can be seen running or hopping across open ground searching for worms, slugs and snails to eat. They also eat berries and fruit.

“He sings each song twice” – this is how the poet Robert Browning describes the song thrush in his famous poem “Home thoughts from abroad”. In fact, the thrush loudly repeats each musical phrase of 2 to 4 notes, between 2 and 4 times. When alarmed they sound out a harsh rattle.

TAWNY OWL (Strix aluco)

Tawny owls have bred successfully all around Denby Dale and are ever present in our woodlands, but they are extremely difficult to see, even though they are as big as a woodpidgeon. Their Tawny colouring is perfect camouflage when roosting during the day. They hide themselves away in tree hollows or up against tree trunks, where they blend in with the bark. If you live in Denby Dale you will almost certainly have heard these birds hooting during the night, or making a harsh kee-wick sound in the early hours of the morning, especially in the autumn as the young owls try to establish their own feeding territory.

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco), photo by Alan Coe
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco), photo by Alan Coe

Maybe you will see one sat in the top of a Churchfield ash tree (a perfect perching spot), but you will have to be up early, as they are unlikely to be around once the sun starts to rise. They are nocturnal and hunt when it gets dark and are only seen during the day if they are disturbed. Tawny owls mostly feed on voles, mice and shrews, but may also eat beetles, frogs, and earthworms, as well as smaller birds such as starlings.

Did you know? Owls’ wings make virtually no noise at all as they fly through the air. This is due to an ingenious design of the feathers, which have the appearance of having a serrated edge. This cuts down wind resistance and causes less air disturbance, resulting in a silent flight, an absolute necessity when you want to catch small mammals by surprise. Owls have exceptional hearing as well as eyesight.

BLUE TIT (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

One of our most common and popular garden birds, the blue tit is adaptable to a range of habitats. Originally a woodland bird they preferred to breed in deciduous woodland (especially oak), but they can now be found in garden nest boxes in the busiest towns. In the first year of putting nest boxes in Churchfield, we were delighted to see at least one pair of blue tits raising a family in one of the boxes. As blue tits rarely move far from where they hatched, who knows, we may have all the nest boxes full of blue tit families soon.

A bit of an acrobat: Blue tits eat spiders and caterpillars in the summer, which are often found at the end of twigs and branches. It’s not unusual to see a blue tit hanging upside down from a branch as it searches for tiny insects. They often jump from branch to branch rather than waste energy flapping their wings to fly. They can also be seen climbing up stone walls in their search for spiders. In winter they will eat more berries and nuts.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

A hard life: It’s a tough life being a blue tit and a high number of them never reach adulthood. They are predated (caught and eaten) by birds of prey and woodpeckers. They have difficulty finding food for their chicks in wet springs, and for themselves in cold winters. It can also be hard to find nest sites in woodland, so our nest boxes in Churchfield may be a little lifeline.

Did you know? That this tiny little bird lays between 8 and 10 eggs, and both parents will feed newly hatched chicks. This is the way Blue tits make sure that at least some of their chicks will grow into adults and raise families of their own.

GREAT TIT (Parus major)
Male (photograph by Alan Coe)
Male (photograph by Alan Coe)

The great tit is the largest and boldest of all the tits and is one of the few tits that will sometimes feed on the ground. They are well known for having a distinctive call which is often described as “tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher”, but, in fact, they have a wide variety of calls and songs ranging from “pink” or “chink”, through “tui, tui, tui”, to “seetoo, seetoo, seetoo”.

Did you know? It is difficult to tell male and female birds apart in most of the tit species but the great tit is one of the exceptions with the male having a much broader black band down his breast, than the female’s narrow stripe.

LONG-TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)

With its round body shape and long tail this is one of the most distinctive birds to visit Churchfield. It may be hard to believe, but this tiny bird can lay up to 12 eggs. They will live as a family group but even larger groups will form in winter. They can be seen in the trees of Churchfield as they search for tiny spiders and insects, as well as occasional seeds.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

Long-tailed tits build nests from feathers and moss held together by spiders web, which hangs under the branch of thorny bush. The way the nest is build allows it to stretch as the eggs hatch and the chicks begin to grow.

WREN (Trogladytes trogladytes)
Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

A little bird with a big voice!

Although the wren is one of the smallest birds in Europe (much smaller than a sparrow), it has a loud distinctive voice. A full throated warbling song similar to a robin but with a distinct rattling sound in the middle, almost like a football rattle.

You can hear and see wrens in Churchfield as they search around the hedges for all kinds of insects, on which they feed.

Because of their small size and body shape they can lose body temperature quite quickly in cold winters. At such times they will often huddle together in a hole of a tree or even a nest box to keep warm.

Photograph by Alan Coe
Photograph by Alan Coe

Did you know? It is the male wren that builds the nest. He makes two or even three nests of loose leaves, moss and grass in a bank protected by a overhang, or tree root. He then sits outside and flutters his outstretched wings trying to attract a female.