Nature Notes

By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

FOR much of last year our birdfeeders went unfilled, partly because there seemed enough wild food available but also due to our desire to discourage the grey squirrels which have from time to time decided that it would be convenient to have such a food source on the doorstep and have invaded the nearest available accommodation, our loft. Once in, they have not been so easy to evict!

However, with the onset of the winter’s hard weather the feeders have been refilled, although this time they have gone on to a much thinner pole than previously, equipped with a metal cone, much to the bafflement and annoyance of the squirrel which was the first creature to discover the replenished feeders.

Since then the feeders have become a source of constant activity with up to twenty blue tits going to and fro from the shelter of the adjacent hedge. Given that many of the other species only visit for brief periods before moving on, it seems unlikely that we are feeding the same twenty time after time and that a much greater number are coming through as part of a feeding circuit, for winter flocks of small birds are continually on the move.

As well as the blue tits there is a constant flow of smaller numbers of great and coal tits. Now and again, up to eight long-tailed tits (pictured) sweep in and the suet balls become a mass of black and white with tails projecting at all angles.

A pair of nuthatches is frequent and a greater spotted woodpecker an occasional visitor as has been a single siskin. I am hoping that the latter will return with others, perhaps bringing redpolls and goldfinches with it, if their natural food sources of birch and alder seeds dry up later in the winter. Greenfinches have been notable absentees, their numbers having crashed nationally as noted in Jenny Dixon’s article last week.

Most of the small birds are nervous feeders, spending time to hammer at suet balls but darting in to snatch sunflower seeds. Much more confident are three bullfinches, possibly the pair we saw throughout last year which raised one young to adulthood which could be the third bird. They tend to spend more time on the feeders, crunching up to ten sunflower seeds in their massive bills before flying back to the woods, apparently oblivious to the risk of attack by the local sparrowhawk which zooms through occasionally, causing panic and a temporary lull in feeding activity.