Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Curtain Twitching

Going out for walks to see wildlife is great, but we shouldn't forget what's right on our doorsteps or out of our windows.

Yesterday I looked up from typing and saw two birds right at eye level flying past. They were black headed gulls, although already in their winter plumage their heads were confusingly white. While you might associate gulls with the seaside black headed gulls are more commonly found inland and are the most common inland gulls in the UK. You'll often see them flying behind ploughing tractors or anywhere with a good supply of worms, fish or insects. The way they glided past my window was breathtaking, completely still except for moving forwards with the wind.

Later in the day I saw movement in the corner of my eye and looked up again. A flock of about fifty starlings were flying round and round our row of terrace houses. Autumn starling roots are beautiful. What I saw wasn't really a proper roost spectacle, those at the RSPB Otmoor (video here) and Fen Drayton Lakes (video here) reserves are truly stunning. Thousands of birds flying in beautiful patterns just like shoals of fish in the sea. This behaviour helps to protect them from predators, flying in a flock makes it harder for birds of prey to pick out individual birds, but they also roost in large groups for warmth and to exchange information.
While these flocks are huge the starling population has dropped by 70% in recent years. There used to be common roosts over big cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh but now you're much more likely to see them in rural areas. The reasons behind their decline aren't certain but could well be linked to increased use of chemicals on farmland and loss of permanent pastures.

So there are two really exciting birds I can see out of my window as well as my normal lovely house sparrows who are taking a while to find the new seed feeder, it's only two meters from the old one!

What's the most exciting wildlife you can see from your house? What's the most boring?

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