Seven Simple Actions for Birds

Most of you will be aware of much of the following from Cornell Lab of Ornithology: seven simple actions to help birds. But if you’re like me, you’ll realise that, although you are aware of them, you may not be doing enough. In the modern world, birds are absolutely dependent on the sum of the actions of all of us. With bird populations in decline, it’s vital that we each do all we can.

Here is a quick summary of the seven things – but do go read at the link above. Sorry it’s US-centric, but the principles apply everywhere.

1. Make windows safer – so many birds fly into them.

2. Keep cats indoors. They are frighteningly effective predators of small birds.

3. Reduce lawn, plant native species to provide food and habitat.

4. Avoid pesticides entirely. They kill natural things, all the way up the food chain.

5. Drink coffee that’s good for birds (shade grown).

6. Stop using throw-away plastics.

7. Watch birds and share what you see.

I’d add

8. feed local birds, and

9. provide nesting places and materials.

No doubt you can think of more… Go to it.

Featured image is from the Cornell article.

 

Ruddy Shelduck

No, I’m not swearing at the duck/goose known as the common shelduck. We saw this pair of a different variant, the ruddy shelduck, while in transit at a park in Chauvigny, near Poitiers.

ruddy shelduck 1ruddy shelduck 2

The pair kept well out of the way of the large number of more common birds on the lake, including mallards and coots.

Also known as the Brahminy Duck, these birds are common in Asia. This is not the case in France, and these are probably escapees.

 

 

Pied Wagtail

This pied wagtail settled just long enough, at RSPB Leighton Moss, to capture a couple of photographs.

pied wagtail.jpg

These birds present a neat pattern of shades of black-white-grey; I guess ‘pied’ could be an appropriate description. From the colour, you might think that it could be a so-called grey wagtail, but that actually has a partially yellow underside, making it easily confused with the yellow wagtail, which is even more yellow. Confusing!

Robin Juvenile

At RSPB Leighton Moss I was quite taken by this little bird that provocatively paraded on the footpath before me – clearly an innocent youngster, without fear. It looked vaguely familiar, but the markings suggested something a bit like a dunnock or a yellowy starling.

When I showed the picture to she who knows much more about birds than I do, she immediately identified it as a juvenile robin (European Robin, of course). Yes, it clearly is, when you look at that familiar slant of the beak.

And I always thought robins have red breasts. According to Wikipedia, the orange feathers begin to appear at around 2-3 months old, and the orange/red breast is complete in around twice that time.

Canada Goslings

Our walk around Shakerley Mere was interrupted by a family of Canada Geese and goslings slowly making their way across the path. As we have a small dog, and Canada’s are very aggressive when protecting their young, we waited while they crossed.

The 5 goslings were being shepherded by about 7 adult stewards, all assiduously watching over them. Interestingly, the group included two white, so-called Domestic Geese, clearly now wild. So the wider family was cross-species.

There was time to photograph the two heads, very distinctively different.

Both these geese are very common in the UK, particularly Canadas, which have become a pest in some places.

Blue Tits

We were delighted that blue tits used the nesting box we put up last year, even more so when a number of chicks appeared about a week ago. Since then there have been lots of tits on our feeders, some of which would be ‘our’ brood. They are obviously very young when you look at the pictures (double click to enlarge).

Blue tits seem to be present in our garden throughout the year. They like insects and are valuable to gardeners in keeping down populations of aphids.

Jackdaw thieves

The new bird feeder seemed like a good idea, to give greater variety to the newly fledged tits in the area. Easy-to-clean, adjustable size of feeding hole. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, next morning the feeder was empty. After the refill I noticed when glancing out of the window that the feeder was swinging about, and opened the window to investigate. Up flew SEVEN jackdaws and four wood pigeons. I determined to at least get photographic evidence.

The first ‘success’ (featured image) caught a thief in the act of flying away. Not a great photo I will admit, but it explains the swinging, which would of course dislodge seed onto the ground for the pigeons. And here was one awaiting his chance high up.

jackdaw 3

Finally, I caught one of the culprits in the act, very dextrously managing to feed from a feeder aimed at much smaller birds.

The jackdaws seem to have given up now, not seen for a couple of days. My theory is that these were newly fledged birds learning their skills. Real adults would not be bothered with such a food source. We shall see.

The old name for jackdaw was simply ‘daw’. I suspect the ‘jack’ was added because that is what their call sounds like.

Anhinga 2

This anhinga, taken at Brazos Bend Texas State Park in March, is poised, intent, ready to strike.

anhinga 2019

According to Wikipedia, the anhinga is also known as a snakebird, American darter, or water turkey. The stance is obviously a bit like that of a cormorant.

Common Blackbird

blackbird headBlackbirds are common in English gardens. They are not much photographed because they are basically just black, with yellow beak and eye ring.

juv blackbirdNow my bird in the photograph is not black, in fact it’s a rather attractive brown colour, if anything looking a bit like a thrush. And the beak is dark, not yellow. But yes, it is still a common blackbird – the adult female and juvenile are more brown than black. This is probably a juvenile, where the adult colours have not yet come out. You can see the eye ring and incipient beak colouring. And the blackbird is indeed a species of thrush.

Wikipedia tells the following interesting story about the name ‘blackbird’:

It may not immediately be clear why the name “blackbird”, first recorded in 1486, was applied to this species, but not to one of the various other common black English birds, such as the carrion crow, raven, rook, or jackdaw. However, in Old English, and in modern English up to about the 18th century, “bird” was used only for smaller or young birds, and larger ones such as crows were called “fowl”. At that time, the blackbird was therefore the only widespread and conspicuous “black bird” in the British Isles.

Photograph taken in Devon, May 2019.

Wheatear

We saw these little birds, wheatears, by the sea several times on a recent visit to North Devon, usually at a distance, as on the featured image. Some of the photographs turned out not too badly.

Strangely, the name is nothing to do with wheat or ears. According to Wikipedia, the name is a folk etymology of “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.

There are said to be 28 subspecies. I’d guess that this one is a northern wheatear, that being the most widespread in Europe. They migrate to Africa in the winter.

 

 

Snowy Egret

At first I thought this was a great egret in Houston’s Hermann Park in March. Eventually I realised that it is actually a snowy egret, which is somewhat smaller.

 

The way the wind has whipped up the neck and tail feathers makes for an interesting effect (click to enlarge).

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, snowy egrets have a black bill and yellow feet, whereas great egrets have a yellow bill and black feet. Hopefully I’ll remember that for next time!

Blue Jay

Almost everywhere we go in Houston, particularly when near Buffalo Bayou, we can hear the raucus cry of the blue jay. Occasionally you get to see these beautiful birds and that brilliant flash of blue. But they do seem to be camera shy. What a nice surprise when this one posed on a car park near the bayou.

 

Being not far from the sea, this is probably the ‘coastal’ variant mentioned by Wikipedia, as opposed to the ‘interior’ or ‘northern’ variants.

American Sparrow

Still sorting through my photographs from Houston, I was trying to identify these birds that were feeding on the grass at Paul D Rushing Nature Reserve. Of course, they kept such a distance that a decent photograph was difficult, although you can see the key features from these.

To European eyes it looked like some sort of bunting or sparrow. Consulting Wikipedia, it seems that American Sparrows are not quite what I had thought.

Although they share the name sparrow, American sparrows are more closely related to Old World buntings than they are to the Old World sparrows (family Passeridae).[1][2] American sparrows are also similar in both appearance and habit to finches, with which they sometimes used to be classified.

So it’s some sort of American Sparrow, of which there is a huge proliferation, according to Wiki. A song sparrow is a likely possibility, as these certainly over-winter in Texas (it was March).

Song Thrush

We often see a song thrush in the back garden, but never with camera handy. Of course, they don’t stay long enough for me to go and get it, wisely with cats around.

This one appeared high on a hedge on a sunny afternoon walk in the Wirral, just asking to be photographed.

songthrush

I only managed 3 shots at maximum zoom before he flew off. Only this one was in reasonable focus. The lesson is maybe to leave burst mode set, but then of course you finish up with so many frames to sort out!

Northern Cardinal

The northern cardinal is very common in Houston and other parts of Texas we’ve visited. You can often hear it singing, see a flash of red go by, or see it perched on a high telephone wire (too far away for a good picture). It may be closer, on tree branch, but get the camera out, and it immediately hides behind the nearest twigs. They KNOW.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see this one at the magnificent Brazos Bend State Park, singing away in a tree and not rushing off. It had clearly seen us, but carried on regardless.

See also an earlier post from a couple of years ago.

Greater Yellowlegs

The larger of these two waders, seen recently at Paul D Rushing Park in Katy, clearly has yellow legs, which does suggest the identification. I tend to think it’s a Greater Yellowlegs, as opposed to a Lesser Yellowlegs, due to the length of the beak – around 1.5 times the head width (see how to tell them apart). The smaller bird is probably a female or juvenile?

yellowlegs

Yellowlegs are part of the Tringa genus of waders that includes sandpipers, redshanks and willets. These are shore birds and their breeding grounds are in Canada and Alaska, so this pair would have been either still overwintering or in the process of migrating north.