Winter visitors – which new species will you get in your garden at this time of year, how to identify and help them.
During the winter most gardens will see the arrival of winter migrants. Some will have travelled thousands of miles to escape the harsh weather further north, while others may be local birds from the surrounding countryside, driven into our gardens by lack of food in the countryside.
All of these birds will eat sunflower hearts and most will also appreciate a chance to drink and bathe.
Fieldfares and Redwings
Fieldfares and Redwings are often referred to as “winter thrushes”, leaving their breeding areas in Northern Europe to spend the coldest months of the year with us. In mild winters they are easily overlooked but a spell of cold weather soon brings them in to feed on berries, windfall apples, high energy ground blend or sunflower hearts.
Both birds are similar in size and shape to a Song Thrush, in fact only the cream eye stripe and the red around the wing separates Redwing from this species. Fieldfares are larger birds with grey on the head and back and black tails.
The male of this species is easily identified by, you guessed it, the black cap. The rest of the bird is a dusky grey. Females have brown caps and a “warmer” grey plumage. They will readily take sunflower hearts and adore peanut cakes, particularly the insect variety.
They used to be regarded as a summer visitor but as “our” birds depart south in the autumn they are replaced with birds that bred in Germany and Austria, taking advantage of our well-stocked bird tables and milder climate.
Bramblings closely resemble Chaffinches and can be regarded as a northern equivalent of that species, only arriving in large numbers only when forced across the North Sea by severe weather or food shortages. They readily eat sunflower hearts but peanut granules seem to be a particular favourite, probably because they are nutritionally almost identical to beech mast, the main winter food of Bramblings and other forest species.
The male Brambling is a like a warm-orange coloured Chaffinch, with a browny/black head, neck and upper back in autumn which gradually changes into a glossy black by the spring. The female is much less obvious but always appears to have dark scales on the back and flanks.
The best character is the white rump on both sexes, which is quite obvious in flight. If you see a flock of Chaffinches and notice a few white rumps as they fly away, be on the alert for Bramblings! If it is a mixed finch flock bear in mind that Bullfinches and Goldfinches also have white rumps.
Adult male Siskins are a bright yellowy-green with a black cap and chin. The rump and outer tail is almost a pure yellow. Females are more soberly attired, being a browny-green and lacking the cap and chin markings.
Like the Brambling, this is a species that most of us will only see in late winter, often for no more than six weeks as the flocks make their way back to their nesting areas in coniferous woodland.
Being birds that usually breed miles from the nearest humans they can be endearingly familiar, sometimes staying on feeders until they are taken down for refilling. They are one of the few birds that really like peanuts, but still seem to prefer sunflower hearts or even nyjer seed given the choice.
Reed Buntings are a scarce winter visitor to gardens, normally only leaving the countryside towards the end of the winter as natural food supplies dwindle. The species is a “red-listed” species of conservation concern so it’s important to help them survive local food shortages. Again sunflower hearts are the food of choice but they will also take a variety of other seeds such as those found in our table seed mix.
Field guides tend to show the adult male in breeding plumage – an unmistakeable bird of similar size and appearance to a House Sparrow, but with a jet black head and broad white collar. In winter both sexes can look more like a “funny sparrow” with a pale brown moustache, eye stripe and crown stripe. The flanks are usually delicately streaked and if you are at all familiar with House Sparrows you will realise that this bird is something else.
Copyright © 2016 CJ WildBird Food Ltd. All rights reserved.