A special winter visitor

When the snows came a few weekends ago an influx of birds came to my garden to feed up on the seeds and fatballs I put out for them. I also threw out some squidgy grapes which had been getting overripe at the bottom of the punnet. And as well as all the usual species a winter visitor from Scandinavia also appeared.

Fieldfare – Turdus pilaris (Dansk: sjagger)

The fieldfare is a species of thrush from Scandinavia which migrates to overwinter in the UK. They’re hardy, feisty birds and utterly resplendent in their psychedelic finery! I’ve seen large flocks of them flying above the countryside around Histon but rarely within the village itself. And then this handsome bird arrived in my garden to feed on the squidgy grapes.

Dismembering a grape

It finished the grapes and then took up residence under a bush in the garden and repelled all comers. Whenever another bird came within striking distance it would emerge from its refuge at speed and chase it off. Which sufficed for everything smaller than a blackbird.

After the grapes had gone I augmented its diet with some apple, which coinidentally is also a favourite food of blackbirds. And within minutes there was competition for the fruit. The fieldfare adopted a very distinctive stance when the blackbird, or anything bigger, like a collared dove or a wood pigeon came within range and several fights ensued. And the fieldfare wasn’t always the winner because blackbirds are also accomplished pugilists when they need to be. So it all worked out evens, they both got some apple and a good scrap would keep them fit too:

The’repel all boarders’ stance, wings down, tail in the air. If that didn’t suffice then all out assault ensued

The fieldfare, I assume it was the same one, appeared in the garden after first light every morning until the rain washed away all the snow and it hasn’t been seen since. At the same time the trees and bushes in the village were also frequented by the fieldfares during the snow but they all disappeared with the snow too.

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36 responses to “A special winter visitor

  1. I am glad to know that little visitor from Scandinavia found such warm hospitality in your garden Finn! 😀 I am sure I must have seen the fieldfare on my walks. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for them when they return. Always a pleasure to be here. Your photos and writing always renew my interest in nature. Sharon

  2. What a lovely bird the fieldfare is! Fantastic pictures. I’ll be providing some apples and grapes from now on thanks for the information 😉

  3. What an educational (and entertaining) post and commentary, Finn…and very nice pictures, to boot. 🙂

  4. Wonderful images Finn. I seem to have been missing your posts for some reason. I’m catching up now.. 🙂

  5. When we visited the U.K. at Christmas time 2005 – 2006 we purchased fatballs to put into Steve’s mums garden for the birds. Over here it doesn’t get as cold as it does over there but we still put food out for the birds and the sparrows, in particular, love any sort of fat. Blackbirds like apples? No WONDER there are so many of them here! Tasmanias alternate name is “The Apple Isle” ;). Those imported scandanavians are somewhat brutal! No doubt they have Viking blood running through their veins. Lucky the blackbirds are clever and quick ;). I am sure that word will get around and next year you will be inundated with fieldfares all pillaging and pilfering anything that you throw to them 😉

    • I’d love to be inundated with fieldfares but I don’t think I could afford enough feed for a whole flock! Blackbirds and thrushes are big fruit eaters so as you’re ‘The Apple Isle’ they’ll be very happy there. BTW is that an ‘official‘ other name for Tassie? I’ve never heard that before.

      The fatballs are really good for the birds (I was reading the other day in another blog that it mest never be vegetable fat, only animal fat), as I write I’ve got a group of long tailed tits on mine, and this week I’ve a pair of blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) feeding on them, and that’s the first time I’ve had them in the garden. Beautiful little chaps they are.

      • Have you ever seen a Tawny Frogmouth? If not, check out the photos in my last post. We found one that had been hit in the road and had to take the poor thing to the vet but they are amazing creatures. Suet is the fat of choice on Serendipity Farm and we make fat balls with seed added and they festoon the naked branches of the deciduous maple alongside our deck steps and the sparrows can’t wait to get onto them! The blackbirds are going to get apple now but it isn’t as cold here and the insects all hang about all winter long so it’s not so hard for the insectivores like the wrens. The ravens love fat too and I have seen them picking up entire fatballs and stealing the lot! ;). We had a white gosshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae white morph) in our front garden the other day. The chooks went mental! All of the birds go very still and quiet and the ravens come out in force to chase him away but he is beautiful when he does visit and they are quite rare birds and we feel very privilaged to see it. There is a MASSIVE (about 6ft across) sea eagles nest just over the river from us and it holds a regular population of sea eagles that breed there and live there. They are amazing birds to watch over the water and Steve has seen them circling overhead when he was fishing in “The Mingy Comumubus” (his small aluminium dinghy). We have a lot of birdlife around here and as foreign and exotic as they sound to you, I am enarmoured of your exotic little garden birds! 🙂

      • I hadn’t seen a tawny frogmouth, that’s a sad story but at least you gave him a chance. I love my little garden songbirds too but I’d give my eyeteeth to see a goshawk (or a sea eagle for that matter!), but they are both very rare in this country. The latest unusual visitor to my fatballs is a blackcap which I’ll post about soon.

      • I love reading about all of the birds that visit your garden because to me, they are exotic :). The Gosshawk is incredibly rare here too. That man with the Tasmanian bird website got very excited when I told him about it and wanted me to take photos but the other day, I thought it was just a large white cockatoo (we have many of those!) and by the time Steve called out to tell me that it was the gosshawk back, and I grabbed my camera, he had been chased to a far tree by the ravens and I couldn’t get a good shot. I am most interested to see what a blackcap is and will be watching avidly for that post 🙂

      • The idea of a goshawk in the garden is a gobsmacker! I’m looking forward to seeing a photograph of it. The blackcaps will probably be posted at the weekend.

      • I keep missing the gosshawk but because our front garden is practically wilderness, we have enormous eucalyptus viminalis everywhere and lots and LOTS of undergrowth that is perfect for birds to live in and breed in, he can flit around with impunity. It is amazing when he gets here because EVERYTHING panics! Our chooks hit the deck and hide in their house, the wrens are suddenly quiet, the blackbirds hightail it out by running into the bushes and everything goes still. It is pretty eerie BUT then the ravens turn up and start attacking him. They are very protective about their patch. We usually hear the ravens going mental and by the time we get out there the gosshawk is flying away to another tree further away and harder to take a photo of. We heard some Butcher birds yesterday very close and headed outside to see a mother feeding her baby from one of the dogs bones! Not wise butcher bird! Earl is VERY protective of his bones! We also have a local grey cuckoo shrike bringing her baby to the deck rail and feeding it small cubes of cheese. I swear they know that they can supplement their diet when times get tough (and all of the enormous redeye cicadas complete their breeding cycle) from our kitchen windowsill and she is teaching it to fend for itself. It makes the most lovely sounds and we also have a young black cockatoo being taught to eat hakea nuts and a young kookaburra who is learning to laugh and who makes sounds like a death metal band! I was in the veggie garden, bums up, picking some veg for a salad on dusk a few weeks ago and heard this AWFUL sound! It actually scared me because it was sort of a menacing voice and I looked up in alarm to see this young kookaburra sitting on a branch looking for lizards around the veggie garden practicing his new voice. I burst out laughing and scared him but it sounded just like a death metal band starting to sing ;). It is very fecund here on Serendipity Farm and even the parrots have started to arrive and breed up. We have western rosellas eating the banana passionfruit and raising babies. Because we have 3 large water baths our property has been put on the bird radar. It has been so very dry this year and the birds soon learn where a regular source of water is. It is a pity that the parrots and wattlebirds LOVE to bath and 1 bird can almost splash the bird baths dry but it is worth keeping them filled to see the range of birds that keep coming and to know that we are helping out our natives 🙂 I will have to wait till the weekend to see the blackcaps (but you know me…I will cheat and go hunting visuals before then, can’t stop researching and learning 😉 ).

      • Are your butcher birds a type of shrike? We have shrikes here in the UK which we call butcher birds because they capture small birds and impale them on on long thorns to stop them escaping whilst they butcher them. Nature is brutal! Your water baths are a great idea and a life saver for the birds when it’s very hot or very cold. Your little patch sounds like a zoo, but the best kind – where the creatures themselves choose whether to stay or go. PS The blackcaps are imminent!

      • Lol you are REALLY building the blackcaps up now… they had better be worth the wait! I have been very good and haven’t even tried to do an image search 🙂 “Zoo” is a perfect word for Serendipity Farm. A motley collection of all sorts of furred and feathered reprobates that society and nature has rejected, all conglomerating together to form a small cesspool of happiness :). I love my sewer 🙂

      • You’ll love ’em, there gorgeous little chaps. The Farm sounds like a real haven – a ‘zooer‘ even 🙂

      • Lol…”Serendipity Zoo”…maybe we can charge admission? (All we need to do is find that last rumoured thylacine and we will have it made! 😉 )

  6. Wonderful pics, and a lovely post. I spent some time today watching from the window a gold finch feasting on the dark red seeds of a sorrel.
    We are in drought, and seeds matter now…

    • Are your goldfinches the same as out UK one or do you have a NZ variety? Our drought has finished now but we’ve gone from drought to flood, both of which are vey harsh on the birdlife.

      • Yes, the goldfinches here would have been brought out by the settlers – same with blackbirds, sparrows, starlings doves and one I don’t know the name of – tiny, yellow with black markings and bright red head, flies in flocks and people call them thistleheads…
        Yes, the drought breaks me up. I wrote a blog a month ago called Summer days and thirsty hedgehogs which my daughter Twittered, and sent to the SPCA and the BIrd and Tree Society, but no-one seems very aware of the need for water out for all creatures. I even bargain with Jehovah’s Witnesses when they call – say I’ll listen to you, if you will put out water for the birds etc!!!

      • Your description of the ‘thistlehead’ sounds very much like the European goldfinch, is there a photograph you could point me to.

        How do the Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to your bargaining, I think that’s a great idea. And water is absolutely essential in hot or cold conditions.

      • Hello Finn,
        No I haven’t got a photo, and haven’t been able to find one in my fairly sparse collection of reference books on birds.
        I’m intrigued now, because if they are gold finches, I wonder what the birds can be that I had thought were goldfinches – these yellow birds are the size of a thrush, and when they’re pecking around in yellow nasturtiums are hard to see until they move…
        Jehovah’s Witnesses –
        The women grin and agree , the men think I must be joking!
        Same response as I got when talking to the school of architecture, and when discussing city planning and people, mentioned birds and water!

      • Hello Valerie, there’s a photograph of a European goldfinch in this post: https://thenaturephile.com/2013/01/02/all-the-other-garden-birds/.

        Hats off to you for lecturing the architects and planners on the wisdom of encouraging the birds. In my humble opinion the living environment (and working environment for that matter) are immensely enhanced by the presence of wildlife, and birds in particular.It’s surprising they are so stunned by such an obvious suggestion, shows a shocking lack of education for folk who are meant to use design to make life more pleasant!

  7. What a gorgeous bird! I’ve never seen anything like it!

  8. Great story and great photos! I’m glad for you that you found such a treat at your bird feeding station.

    You probably know Missus Tribble already, but just in case you don’t, I recommend her recent post about bird feeding http://rosewinelover.com/2013/02/05/care-of-wild-birds/ I learned a few things from it. Talking of learning, the one time a fieldfare turned up in my garden, I knew it immediately! A childhood spent reading Observers Books wasn’t wasted.

    • I loved the Observers books when I was a kid, it’s good that the fieldfare was in there too as it’s a winter visitor.

      I read Missus Tribbles post about feeding birds, I knew most of it but I didn’t know they shouldn’t have vegetable oils.

  9. Utterly magnificent pics Finn! What a wonderful post. I’m going to start saving up squidgy grapes.

    • Thanks Lorna. Those crappy ones that fall off the sprig and fester in the bottom of the punnet are the ones that work best. I don’t know about up your way, but down here it’s the frost that drives them into gardens and then the soft fruit tempt them back for return visits.

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