Wildlife Wednesday – Looking Back at Our February Garden Visitors

Tina Huckabee hosts a monthly Wildlife meme on the first Wednesday of each month on her lovely My Gardener Says blog. I took part for the first time in January and am just as happy to be able to take part again, this time looking back at the wildlife visiting our garden in February. A month of mixed temperatures, with cold snow, heavy rain and howling winds and then some sunny days rising up to 11c. A wide range of birds, some regulars, some occasional visitors and for the first time a female Black Cap dropped by too, plus a few displaying some unusual behaviour.

Two Starlings - a mature bird and a juvenile

Two Starlings – a mature bird and a juvenile

Running at a right angle to our east facing dining room window is an enormous Hydrangea petiolaris, its a tough woody, shade tolerant climber that provides shelter and foraging opportunities for many birds. In the colder months we add fat blocks impregnated with mealworms and crushed insects to the bare branches. The smaller Starling is a juvenile, its colouring will change and the bird will grow darker feathers. Both birds will lose their spots as they moult and develop darker sleeker feathers in preparation for finding a mate and the breeding season. Starlings regularly nest in a small gap between our barge boards and roof tiles, but to see a whole flock, we travel further east to the Fens between November and February to watch the murmurations.

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Groups of Starlings meet up before dusk, its thought the reason for these gatherings is safety in numbers, predators such as sparrow hawks would find picking off individual birds difficult, to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. Watching a murmuration is an exciting event, many thousands of birds, swirling, soaring and finally as dark descends dropping down from the sky to roost.

Early February snow

Early February snow, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits and female Sparrow,

The month had started with a return to cold snowy weather, a steady stream of birds kept us entertained. The female sparrow was finally joined by a male and increasing numbers of Long tailed Tits came into the garden. This little bird is joyful to watch. The BTO (British Ornithological Trust) reports the success of this little bird and numbers have increased tenfold in recent years, although a very harsh winter could see numbers reduce again.

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

We encourage as much as we can to visit as a garden is pretty soulless without wildlife and the local pheasants have been interesting to watch as they come in looking for seed dropped from the feeders. They are bred nearby for shooting. The season runs from October 1st to February 1st. Foxes eventually take a lot of those not shot, a neighbour reported 12 in his garden last week, we have 4 hopping in and out, a male and 3 females. They are especially partial to a burnt orange primroses……

Male and Female Pheasant

Male and Female Pheasant

Last week we watched as the male decided to try and knock seed from the nyger and mixed seed tubes onto the ground. Where there’s a will there’s a way! This unusual behaviour has been reported to the BTO by other bird watchers too. The large black bird on the right is a Jackdaw, they roost with Carrion Crows and Rooks in the nearby woods, making a terrific din.

Pheasant and Jackdaw

Pheasant and Jackdaw

On February 16th, we went to a talk by our local Wildlife Trust group on macro moths. We learnt so much, including that one brood of Blue Tit chicks can eat up to 15,000 moth caterpillars. Other birds such as Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds also include moths as a food source. The Butterfly Conservation group estimate our Blue Tit population needs 35 billion caterpillars a year. There are 2,500 species of moths in the UK and most can be found in gardens, one small urban garden may be home to 100 species of Moths. As well as being a food source for other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats and birds, they are also a garden pollinator as they feed on plant nectar.

However moths are in decline and the loss has a direct effect on the birds, bats and mammals who depend on them for food. Moth habitat loss is due to intensive farming, changing woodland management and urbanisation. Chemical and light pollution are also reported as having significant effects.

The Butterfly Conservation organisation has an excellent sister site Moths Count and both sites are jam packed with information ranging from identifying tips to citizen science projects.

IMG_3009

Male Chaffinch

This February we have been visited regularly by a male chaffinch, he will like many other birds be pairing up in the Spring. I read that its the female chaffinch who builds the nest, a neat cup shaped nest in the fork of a tree or tall bush made of lichen and spiders webs and inner layers of moss and grass with a lining of tiny rootlets and feathers and when ready will lay 4 – 5 eggs between late April and June. I haven’t seen her in our garden yet but I hope we do and hope she finds a suitable place to build her nest.

It was national nest box week in February and with the increased loss of suitable natural sites, a nest box put up now may still help garden birds to find a home to lay their eggs. The RSPB has a handy guide should you fancy making a nest box yourself. We have a nest box up with a 25mm entrance hole the suitable size for a Blue Tit, Marsh Tit or Coal Tit.

Please take a look at the other folk taking part in Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife watching!

48 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday – Looking Back at Our February Garden Visitors

  1. Great pictures of the birds. The long tailed tits are so cute. Pheasants do get up to all sorts of mischief, we still have Ptolemy but I haven’t seen any females yet this year.

  2. Such a great post, Julie!! So much good information there, thank you for that. You have birds that we don’t (duh. of course you do) and it’s a treat to learn about them. The photos of the Long-tail tit was beautiful as is the model. Are your pheasants indigenous? What fun to have them in your gardens.

    Thanks for reiterating the important information about how much birds eat in insects and how important it is to encourage a healthy, diverse ecosystem. Gardeners are now at the forefront of that important ecological work as habitat is compromised and destroyed world wide.

    Thanks for participating in Wildlife Wednesday–it’s such a treat to see what lives in other parts of the world.

    • Tina, thanks so much for hosting the meme, its brilliant, learning about the moths has opened my eyes to the needs of our garden birds and of course birds in the wider world. I love seeing the birds and other wildlife you have over there too.

  3. Absolutely stunning photographs, and so much fun to see the array of regular visitors to your spaces. I too appreciate the reminder about moths and the critical role they play. Here in Central Texas we often focus on migrating monarch butterflies almost to the exclusion of appreciating so many other year round moth and butterfly residents that support local bird populations and provide important pollination support. Happy Wildlife Wednesday!

    • So many creatures needing habitat help go under the radar as they are not exciting or beautiful and thats even tougher in times of so much habitat loss.

  4. Wonderful post! We have Starlings . . . but not in that number! At least not close to home. Thanks for posting such a diverse assortment of birds. I know I’ll never personally see some of those you’ve depicted. That’s what makes this meme so much fun — knowing and seeing what others have in their gardens when it comes to wildlife. I especially enjoyed your pic of the Long Tailed Tit. I plan to take a look at the various sites you mentioned. They sound quite interesting.

  5. Your photos! So beautiful. Just wow. Thanks for sharing about the moths. Finding compassion for wild cats or wolves or birds is easy. But the fate of all those cool beasties depends on the survival of invertebrates.

    • Yes I agree Debra, it brings home too how important it is not to randomly spray chemicals on invertebrates which then poison other species higher up the food chain.

  6. I enjoyed reading about the wildlife in your garden; the picture of the long-tailed tit is lovely. I have other tits in the garden and finches, but have never seen one of those. I once saw starlings swooping in the sky above Aberdeen – not sure whether it counted as a murmuration, but it was pretty spectacular. I just stood and watched and couldn’t understand why no-one else was doing the same.

    • Thanks Annette, I would of watched with you, it sounds a wonderful sight! There are some amazing spectacles and sights in nature, sadly some folk are just too busy to notice.

  7. Such great photos – it’s been so many years since I have seen pheasants roaming free, I imagine that the fox numbers have increased due to the breeding activities nearby?

    • There is still a ban on fox hunting in this country, introduced just over 10 years ago. In that time I haven’t been aware of more foxes generally, but I do see evidence of foxes taking the ground nesting pheasants. Last year I just happened upon a vixen and 3 cubs and got within 30metres, up close they are beautiful creatures.

  8. Wonderful bird photos Julie. My camera doesn’t zoom in that close and even with cropping my pictures I don’t get good results. I hope to get a telephoto lens one day. There is a small starling murmuration that occurs in Norwich city centre and I have been watching it while sitting in queues at traffic lights recently.
    When we first moved to Suffolk over 20 years ago there were so many moths to be seen all through the year but I see hardly any now. This is despite less chemicals being used and more people being aware of the dangers of pollution and so on.

    • Thats a sad report on Moths Clare, there is one species of Moth we were asked to particularly look out for – the Garden Tiger its down by 92%. And then we learnt that some species are increased and some migrant species are thriving here due to climate change. The Starlings over Norwich sound a great sight.

  9. The long-tailed tit is absolutely precious – I wish we had something similar in Texas! And the pheasants are absolutely stunning, even though it sounds like they are more of a nuisance for you at the moment. Thanks for sharing!

    • Long Tailed Tits often come into the garden in a group of 6 or more and they always make me smile. The birds in Texas seem much more colourful than ours, especially your Bluejays, we have nothing like that here. I am enjoying the insight.

  10. What an enjoyable read, and your photos are lovely. The pheasant and jackdaw shot is a bit surreal as neither are usually found on bird feeders! I hardly ever see pheasants here, possibly because there is no shooting tradition for them so their numbers have gradually declined in the south.

    • Thank Cathy, I have read that 35 million Pheasants a year are bred for shooting and of that 15 million are recorded as shot. Instinctively I find this disgusting. They are not a native species and were introduced by the Romans and are just an accepted part of our countryside now, I think a lot are killed by foxes and cars. Interesting that numbers have declined were you are, they are ground nesters, so guessing you have predators that would take them too.

    • Thanks Susie, for me it does not matter how beautiful a plant or garden is, if birds, bees, ladybirds, pollinators or any wildlife is forced away with chemicals or deterents there is no connection its just a soulless place.

  11. Julie I love reading about your wildlife…that Chaffinch is adorable. And what an enterprising pheasant. It is wonderful to hear similar projects around the world are happening to apprise folks about the decline of moths, butterflies and other critter issues.

    • I really enjoy reading about the wildlife you have too Donna, I love the way we get to share the window on our worlds and the creatures making us smile. Hope you have a lovely week.

  12. A great post Julie, so interesting and fabulous photos. I love Long Tailed Tits and I can’ t imagine how you got one to sit still long enough to have its photo taken.

    • I was inside looking through the window and standing very still, hardly breathing and took that photo before I passed out! Today a blackbird stood looking at me whilst I was kneeling on the ground from two feet away, just my camera phone though in hand.

  13. Some brilliant photos, Julie. I particularly liked the Long Tailed Tit. I can never get such brilliant close ups of birds. And well done for the bit on moths. We’re so off the beaten track here, that moth numbers are still pretty good – have you checked out my monthly diaries of moth images on my blog? Done to aid identification, since if you ever get into it, the sheer diversity can be a bit overwhelming. And many of them are just as beautiful as butterflies.
    BW
    Julian

    • Hi Julian, I had no idea about your Moth diaries, I have just looked and they are absolutely amazing and really interesting. Your photography and range of identified moths are both fantastic.

  14. An excellent, most interesting post, Julie.
    I did not realize that moths were in decline too.
    Oh, dear.

    A friend of mine has done a feature documentary on the decline of the songbirds. It;s really very startling.

    • Thanks Cynthia, its sad to learn so many creatures are in decline, mainly because of our actions and the race to feed us all. Your friends documentary sounds very interesting, but again another sad reminder of what we are doing to this planet.

  15. Beautiful! Of all the birds we’ve had in Ireland I miss my starlings most. We used to live on lakeshore and saw their amazing displays regularly. One winter a couple froze to the gutter where they slept at night (bad choice), so we had to thaw them with the hair dryer and take place them in front of the fire. They never looked back, thankfully, gorgeous creatures 🙂

  16. Great photos! I think of starlings as drab birds but their spring outfit is really striking! Also I am very impressed that you have pheasants wandering around your garden. Love the long-tailed tit, looks like a very fancy version of our chickadees.

    • Thanks Robbie, I love all of the wildlife visiting our garden and watching the interaction is very absorbing. It always makes the world seem a better place.

  17. Mr. Long Tailed Tit is quite handsome. The brids here are getting frisky with the warmer weather, though we’ve had a couple of cold nights. I’ve even seen a few photos of hummingbirds on Facebook, but none yet in my garden.

    • Hi Marian, to have Hummingbirds visit must be absolutely magical, sadly they are not a bird that visits here. The Long tailed tits are great fun to watch and we have two of their relatives nesting in the garden blue tits and coal tits this spring.

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