As you my have noticed, I like wildlife. I think most people do. I do, however, think we can appreciate a lot more what we see in our day to day lives. Driving to work, standing at the bus stop, or washing the dishes. I’d like to show a few things you may be missing. I’m going to start off with what’s probably the most reviled bird in the UK. It’s “vermine”, it’s a “flying rat”, it’s the Feral Pigeon. I know what you’re thinking, but please, birdwatching is about watching birds, not ticking off a species list. Pigeons are birds, so why not watch them? Yes there are a lot of them, and yes, they are everywhere, but so are we. Should we start treating people the way we’ve treated pigeons? Spread caustic paste on the pavements so it eats away our feet. That’s why you’ve seen so many one-footed pigeons. Have you ever sat at the front on the top deck of a bus and have a pigeon swoop down and fly in front of you? I have, and it’s a beautiful sight. You stop seeing it as a pigeon, and simply appreciate the beauty of bird flight. I used to joke about pigeons being crap because they can’t fly without slapping their wings together- until I read an article explaining that this gave them better, more efficient lift. Then there’s it’s cousin, the Woodpigeon. A bird that over recent years has moved more and more into towns and gardens, to the point where in some areas it is regarded with little more esteem than it’s feral relative. Yet this bird is responsible for one of the most touching sights I’ve ever seen. In a tree in Sainsburys car park, there were two of them on a branch, and they were doing the simplest thing. One of them passed a small twig to the other, and then nuzzled it. Then, the second passed the twig back, and also nuzzled. They repeated this many times, each time with the same level of gentleness. Watching this gave the same feeling of warmth as when you see an elderly couple holding hands in the street.
What about Magpies? They get a lot of bad press, mainly for eating nestlings and eggs. Yes they do this, but a) it’s mostly in the summer, and isn’t as often as people claim, and b) Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers do the same, and when was the last time you heard anyone moan about them? I admit that the noise Magpies make can grate, but have you ever taken the time to look at the amazing colours on their petrol blue-green wing feathers? It’s a colour that I have never even seen adequately displayed in a photograph, let alone captured myself. The same can be said for the shimmering neck feathers of pigeons.
Sometimes a bird will have a reputation completely different to reality. Step forward the Carrion Crow, a bird so familiar that we only use the latter half of it’s name (an honour also reserved for House Sparrows, Mute Swans, Grey Herons and Barn Swallows). It has a reputation for being scruffy and menacing, but if you stop and look at one you’ll see that they are clean, majestic and have such an intelligent look in their eyes it can make you question just how different we are from animals.
Then there’s the opinion that in this country, you have to travel to find birds that aren’t brown and boring. Ignoring the fact that only three of the birds mentioned so far are brown (and two of those are birds of prey), I’d like to offer the blues and yellows of the Blue Tit, the greens of Greenfinches and Green Woodpeckers, Robins with their red breasts, Chaffinches are pinks, peaches, and grey-blues, and Starlings have irridescent purpley-green hues. Then there are Pied Wagtails which, as their name suggests, are black and white, as are Great Spotted Woodpeckers, which also have red crowns on the back of their heads. I’m saving the Jay til last, which is peachy-pink all over, with blue wing bars and black and white tail and wing feathers.
Another interesting thing is regional diversity. I grant that there are a lot of species that you see pretty much everywhere you go, however, in different places different species predominate. I’ll use the towns I’ve lived in as an example. When I was living in Bedford the most common species to see was the House Sparrow, in Cambridge it was the Song Thrush, in Croydon it was Blackbirds, Plumstead had a lot of Mistle Thrushes, Finsbury Park was home to many Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits, and here in Barry (ignoring the gulls) it’s Pied Wagtails. But it doesn’t stop there. In Bedford north of the river was mainly House Sparrows, whilst south was Dunnocks. And again, here in Barry, from the town centre to the east it’s mainly Pied Wagtails, but the further west you go Starlings start to take over, themselves being replaced by Robins when you hit the outskirts. And all this can change from one year to the next. That’s why bridwatchers continue to practice their hobby year in year out- because it’s always fresh. And that’s the beauty of it.