Welcoming winter visitors
PUBLISHED: 18:37 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 18:56 14 December 2015
Winter might not have the same exuberance of flirting birds in spring, but still rewards us with some wonderful sights and sounds. The RSPB’s Vicky Boorman enjoys the season
A kind of hush descends in our gardens and parks at the end of summer. The flurry of birds noisily courting, nesting and bringing up young has finished, nests have been deserted and summer visitors such as swifts, have returned to their winter homes in Africa.
Luckily, for wildlife lovers, autumn and winter brings a new flush of birds to our shores. Look up and you might see a flock of swans or geese gliding across a darkening evening sky. Their mournful honking call is often the first clue to the birds’ presence and sometimes when the air is still, the steady beat of their wings can be heard.
Many of these arriving flocks return yearly to wetland nature reserves such as RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. Towards the end of October, you could witness the arrival of the Bewick swans overhead, fleeing the Siberian winter. Some say the early arrival of this species signals that we have a long hard winter ahead. If that’s the case, we’d better be prepared as this year the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge in Gloucester recorded their first swan arriving from Siberia 25 days earlier than expected.
Garden feeders also become busy again at this time of year as berries and other natural food sources begin to run out. You might be surprised to know that many of the robins, blackbirds, song thrushes and starlings that come to our gardens in winter are visitors fleeing colder conditions, perhaps from Scandinavia or eastern Europe, and not the same birds we had singing from our trees in spring.
Whether it’s on a windswept country walk, or viewed from your kitchen or car window, there are many glorious birds to be seen during the colder months. Here are my top five to look out for in Suffolk:
Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes. They are very social birds, spending the winter in flocks of anything from a dozen or two to several hundred strong. Best looked for in the countryside, along hedges and in fields.
Goldfinches might be small and quite dainty, but their striking red faces and the bright yellow flashes on their wings (which give the bird its name) certainly make them hard to miss. In winter many migrate south, but goldfinches are increasingly seen on our bird tables and feeders all year round.
Similar in size and shape to the chaffinch, the male has a black head in summer, and an orange breast with white belly. Gregarious in winter, it may form flocks of many thousands and often joins with chaffinches. Numbers can vary between winters depending on food supplies.
These plump, crested birds come to Britain in winter from Scandinavia. They feed on berries and can be seen in gardens and cities as well as the countryside.
This medium-sized duck with a round head and small bill can be seen overwintering in large numbers at RSPB wetland nature reserves in Suffolk. Many have flown in from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.
For more information about helping wildlife in your garden www.rspb.org.uk/homes