Looking Out Of Your Window At Birds Is So Good For You But Be Careful

Robin at RSPB Conwy

Set aside an hour this weekend to really enjoy your garden birds - Robin.

This weekend 30th and 31st January 2021 sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch when the bird conservation charity ask people to look out of their window and count the birds they see for one hour and record the results. What a wonderful way to spend an hour enjoying birds and let the troubles of the world be pushed away for an hour. Watching birds is so very good for us a stress buster and a mindfulness moment that calms the brain. Watch more birds you will feel for better for it, But be careful it can be adictive....

Ruth recalls how it all started for her...You always remember your first. Your first record: mine was Blondie’s Heart of Glass. Your first car, a blue Mini, the original model, in my case. Your first kiss. Well, that’s a story for a completely different kind of blog! And your first bird: unforgettable.

Mine was a Bullfinch, a handsome male bird, all puffed up with his pinky-orangey-red belly (the wonderfully-named Bongo Jazz 1 according to the Dulux paint chart!) glowing in contrast to his matt, black head. I was immediately star-struck, and it was all because of liver and bacon.

Bullfinch 1

Bullfinches are such amazing birds you are very lucky if you see them from your window,

Saturday lunch when I was a child was a family affair eaten at the kitchen table, and there was no getting down from the table until your plate was empty. My mother would inflict liver and bacon on us occasionally and I would try my hardest to hide this evil food under my knife and fork, and pretend I’d eaten everything. Nothing escaped Mum’s sharp eyes, however, and I was told I would spend the whole afternoon at the table if necessary, until my plate was completely empty. A dire threat to any active youngster, apart from the fact that Mum had overlooked one thing. From my seat I looked straight out of the kitchen window towards the apple orchard next door.

It was early spring, and the buds were just beginning to form on the apple trees, Worcester Pearmain I think they were. Whatever the species, these newly-engorged buds were proving very attractive to several birds and I watched with great attention. The brighter bird, which I later learned was the male, was particularly striking. The incredible blush-coloured belly really caught my eye, and I was impressed with how neatly demarcated the bird was between the different areas of colour. Dapper would be the best word to describe the bird. It was feeding very actively in the nearest apple tree to my window, plucking the buds from the twig with its chunky, dark bill and wolfing them down at a great rate. Every so often, it would turn to face me as it munched, a messy eater with detritus from the shredded buds all over its bill.

The male was particularly acrobatic in its quest for the tastiest buds too. Having eaten all the buds on the thicker branches, it turned its attention to the spindlier twigs, and shuffled sideways towards the buds nearest the tips. The thinnest twigs weren’t strong enough to take the weight of this chunky bird and they bowed down at an alarming angle, the buds always just beyond its reach. Clearly this technique wasn’t going to work, but unfazed, it perched on a sturdier branch higher up and swung upside-down, clinging on with its claws wrapped around the branch while stretching at full length to reach those elusive buds with its bill.

A second bird was similarly patterned but not as colourful, the female as I subsequently found out. She also had a matt, black cap, and dark wings with a striking white wing-bar, but where the male was vividly colourful, the female was a subtle beige-pink on the belly (Dead Salmon if you prefer your paint by Farrow & Ball!). The female’s feeding habits were more constrained too. Rather than resorting to acrobatics, she was content to perch on a solid branch and systematically rip off every single bud within reach from that one spot.

I was fascinated by these stout little birds, the first time that I had seriously paid attention to birds and here they were, living out their busy lives right under my nose. I was so absorbed by their antics that even my liver and bacon disappeared without my realising.

Nuthatch Henllys April 2017 1

Nuthatch was another lovely bird enjoyed from Ruth's window.

And so began my love affair with birds. Next-door’s apple orchard proved a fruitful (sorry!) hunting ground and I soon added to my repertoire of local birds. Blue Tits frequently probed amongst the buds and flowers in search of grubs, while Chaffinches and Greenfinches were regular visitors to the apple trees. The glorious sight of a Green Woodpecker or Yaffle as my Dad called it brightened up a summer day, and in the autumn Fieldfares and Redwings, exotic visitors from Scandinavia, visited our rural corner of Kent. Treecreepers sidled their way up the trunks, Nuthatches slithered their way down, and in winter Robins would strike a Christmas card pose on the snow-covered branches.

Cuban Bullfinch Feb 2018 1

One Bullfinch can lead to another this one the Cuban Bullfinch an island endemic.

Time has moved on since then. Sadly, next-door’s orchard has been built on, not all progress is good, though I’m glad to report that I don’t play with my food any more. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and see many thousands of bird species, but the Bullfinch still holds a special place in my heart.

It’s a secretive bird, preferring to stay in scrubby woodland and rural gardens rather than visit urban areas, though a garden with budding fruit trees is such a temptation in spring that you may see Bullfinches more frequently then. Listen out for a melancholy ‘meep’, a feeble call given the sturdiness of the bird, and you might spot this bull-necked finch lurking in the vegetation. Perhaps fewer gardens are big enough for fruit trees these days, or maybe commercial fruit farmers have chased them out of their orchards too effectively, but since those heady days of my youth, the BTO has reported a decline in Bullfinch numbers in the southeast, and it is now an amber listed species, though Ireland has experienced a more recent increase in breeding bird numbers. So, the Bullfinch was my first bird love and set me off on a path I could never have imagined. What was your first bird, and where did it take you?

Ruth Miller

Check out the RSPB website for all the details of The Big Garden Bird Watch and get involved you never know where it might lead!

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