Garden guests

It was in June that fledgling birds finally started to appear in the garden. With so many natural phenomena being late this year due to the delayed onset of spring and the warm weather, the birds were no exception. The first one that I noticed was this robin chick who appeared on its own every morning for quite a few days feeding on seeds and nuts from the tray feeder. I placed an old kettle in a bush near the feeders a couple of years ago hoping that robins would find it a suitable nest site, but they haven’t been tempted so far so I think it may be too close to all the other avian activity. I’m going to find a less disturbed location for it for next years breeding season when I’ll hopefully see a few more of these:

Robin fledgling gathering its strength before striking out on its own

The robin (Erithacus rubecula, Dansk: rødhals) is a feisty little bird which I’ve often found hopping round my feet looking for the insects that get turned over as I dig the garden, or sitting on a feeder within inches of me, completely unfazed as I’m working,  as long as I don’t do anything overtly threatening. Often I don’t know it’s there until I glance up and see it sitting on the fence peering at me, and if I ignore it and carry on working it will go about its business unconcerned by my presence. They are iconic garden birds and according to the British Trust for Ornithology our unofficial national bird.

A less frequent visitor to my garden is the greenfinch. I hear the males calling almost every day through the summer from the top of a tall fir tree in a nearby garden. They don’t often venture into my garden outside the breeding season, but this year both the male and female and then the fledglings would feed here, and this is the male:

The male greenfinch clearing up seed fallen from a hanging feeder

The shape of the pointed, chunky, beak of the greenfinch (Chloris chloris, Dansk: grønirisk) clearly marks it out as a seed eating member of the finch family although they also hunt invertebrates to feed the chicks to give them a rapid calorie boost.

The geenfinch showing off his seed cracking beak and sumptuous plumage

From a distance the greenfinch can look fairly dull, but in full breeding condition and good light the males have magnificent plumage. This one is also decorated by tiny drops of rain on its back.

This year the starlings were numerous and entertaining, another feisty visitor, especially when they bowl in mob-handed complete with sizable broods of unruly youngsters. For several weeks, families of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris, Dansk: stær) with many fledglings invaded the garden and fed mainly on the fat balls. There were often 20+ individuals making a right old cacophany and emptying both the fat ball feeders every day. It was good fun to watch, and as the starling is red listed in the UK due to huge population decline it was good to see so many fledglings.

Starling fledgling on the right begging for food from the parent

Two more fledglings waiting to be fed, they haven’t yet grown the dark irridescent feathers of the adults

Taking matters into its own hands and being seen off by the adult. Note the fat ball feeder is nearly empty

The biggest and most colourful guest this year was the jay:

The jay, Garrulus glandarius, Dansk: skovskade

Jays are extremely infrequent visitors to my garden but this one appeared every morning and throughout the day over a week at the end of May beginning of June. It was taking seed from the tray feeder and I’m guessing it had a nest close by. (The ‘decorated’ wood of my fence really isn’t the most attractive backdrop for a nature picture so I’ve since moved the bird feeders to a new location infront of some foliage!). The jay is by far the most colourful of the crow family, most of which have almost entirely black plumage, except the magpie which is black and white. As you can see it’s the size of a small crow but the colours are magnificent. This one was brave too. I was sitting on a bench just 6-7m away and it was quite happy for me to sit that close and photograph it.

Jays feed mainly on seed and in the autumn they cache acorns by burying them in the ground for retrieval when things get tough through the winter. I’ve heard that a single jay can bury up to 5000 acorns… and remember where they all are! But I’ve also heard that jays are very good at propagating oak woodland, so maybe they do forget where some of their treasure is buried.

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23 responses to “Garden guests

  1. Glad to be back to the RSS Feed Reading/blogging world after a solid month away. We are having a problem here in Tassie at the moment with sparrows dying everywhere. It happened in 2009 as well and was attributed to salmonella poisoning at the time but we had 5 of them that would pinch the chook food etc. but they have disappeared now :(. The wrens are out in force eating cheese cubes and bulking up for the spring production of babies and our cuckoo thrushes are all doing the same thing. As your world starts to wind down, ours is just getting started.

    • Hello Fran, and what a month off it was! How is your liver doing?

      I hope your sparrows recover, I’ve never heard of a salmonella outbreak killing off bird populations before.

      • It must be quite common…or something else is killing them off. As invasive species, I doubt the local twitchers care much about the humble house sparrow but they are plucky little buggers and I love them and miss the 5 that we had regularly visiting :(. Liver recovered nicely. I couldn’t keep up with Kym and Steve so gave up early and set about detoxing back to normal ;).

      • I’m with you, I love the sparrows too – and they’re also decreasing rapidly here.

        Good to hear the hepactocytes have regained their equilibrium!

  2. The only jays that I’ve been aware of are the blue variety. I hadn’t seen them since my childhood in the eastern States, but have seen them again, and only fleetingly, less than a half-dozen in the past three years, here in the mountains and canyons of Utah. Very nice post, Finn. I always enjoy spending time in your garden. :)

    • As far as I know we only have the one type in Europe too. They’re woodland birds and they love oak trees and acorns. They’re not uncommon over here but with colours like that it’s always good to see them!

      • My son and I saw one for only a moment yesterday while we were out hiking…and we discussed how their color seems to be so un-natural out in the wild…we were wondering at the evolutionary advantage that has allowed them so survive when they are so brightly colored…but, they’re very swift, too, so that would certainly help in their survival.

      • Good point, it’s not a colour scheme that I’d imagine would lend itself to effective camouflage out in the forest, but it obviously works for them. If they’re anything like ours they’re probably just quick enough, loud enough and brassy enough to deter predators regardless of the paint job!

      • That sounds right!

  3. I like all of these, and the jay especially. What a beautiful bird!

  4. Lovely photos of your garden visitors. The jay is quite colorful, but looks smaller than our Blue Jay. Then again, it’s a different genus.

  5. Grand garden guests, Finn. I’m surprised that the new generation of starlings are still in the fledgling stage–or did you make these a while ago? Also, I had not realized that your jay is that colorful. Thanks yet again for helping to open my eyes with what you see through yours.

    • Hello gary, you’re very welcome. These pictures were take at the end of May/beginning of June when the fledglings were not long out the nest. I don’t know if they are still that colour because they no longer visit the garden but I’ll try to photograph them in the fields to see if they have grown the adult plumage yet.

  6. Robins are my favorites but all your pictures are wonderful! What a lot of activity there is around feeders…

    • Hello Meg, when there are younsters to feed, or the weather is bad, it can get very busy indeed! And you’ve given me an idea to to a daily bird count to record what birds do visit.

  7. That Jay is a very attractive bird.
    Good light in your photos. I guess you get up nice & early to capture that.

    • I was sitting outside enjoying my morning coffee and it was one of those days that was grey but still quite bright – perfect weather for nature photography. He’s a beauty isn’t he!

  8. I love the interaction among your garden guests that you were able to capture. I appreciate how much patience it takes to get pictures like that.

    • Hello Charlie, the birds in the garden are very accomodating, as long as I’m out of bed early enough I can guarantee to see some birds out there. It’s just a question of who comes on what day.

      BTW, I just saw your July post about saving water (http://seattletrekker.com/well-being-in-seattle/water-usage) and the stats there are mind blowing. At the same time it makes one realise how easy it would be to save colossal amounts of freash treated water… if only everyone was aware of the problem and that it’s that easy to help.

  9. It often surprises me how tame robins are, coming much closer than other garden birds. I’m amazed that you had a jay on your bird feeder! I see them quite a bit flitting in and out of wooded areas in surrounding countryside but I’ve never seen one in the garden. They’re very beautiful and I love your photograph of that particular specimen. In fact, I love all your photographs, they never cease to impress me.

    • Hello Lorna, the robins are ace, quite fearless and fortunately they’re often here. The jay was a bit special though and I was really surprised how relaxed it was. I’m glad you like the pictures, it’s very gratifying to hear comments like that!

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