Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Black Caps and Red Wings

I mentioned the sighting of a female Blackcap on Hilly Fields in my "December Bird Survey" post. Since then, this little bird has made the national press and television (well, the Independent and BBC's Winterwatch at least) and it's all due to the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO has initiated a January Blackcap garden survey, details of which can be found on their website: It has also produced evidence that Blackcaps which winter in the UK are not - as I confidently asserted - staying on after the spring migratory flocks return to Spain and North Africa in autumn, but are part of a separate population from Central Europe - particularly Germany. Whereas in the past, these birds have gone south from Germany in autumn, they now prefer to spend their winter vacation here (see the yellow arrow in the diagram below).

"What?!" I hear you say. "They prefer Britain to the Med! Talk about bird-brained..." But they've discovered that it's warm enough here and, even better, their return journey is much shorter, allowing them to get back quickly to Germany in the spring and nab the best nesting sites. Not so silly after all, eh? "We have a new winter bird" is how Michael McCarthy put it in the Independent. And the upshot for us is that we will have year-round Blackcaps in Hilly Fields, albeit not in great numbers. Their use of garden feeders is on the increase and if you have one, it is worth doing the BTO survey. In my experience, the feature that stands out in the Blackcap is its pale grey breast. Once you've seen that, check if they have a black head (male) or chestnut brown (female). Here's a close-up clip of a male:

Redwings are another species which winter in the UK, arriving in their thousands from Scandinavia. Members of the Thrush family, they have speckled breasts but the main distinguishing features are red patches on their sides and a white stripe over each eye. Yesterday we did a special mid-month survey of Hilly Fields prior to our Big Birdwatch event (Sunday 27 January at 10.30) and saw four of them which is the first sighting on HF since Keith recorded a small flock of seven two years ago.

In addition, we saw 30+ Starlings, 17 Goldfinches, 15 Wood Pigeons, 11 Common Gulls, lots of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Robins, Crows, Magpies, Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Mistle Thrushes, House Sparrows and one each of Jay, Ring-necked Parakeet, Wren, Feral Pigeon and Black-headed Gull. A total of 20 species which augers well for the (stop me if I've mentioned this before) Big Birdwatch event on Sunday 27 January at 10.30. Incidentally, there seemed to be a growing awareness amongst some birds yesterday that the mating season is getting closer. Certainly, this Robin was singing very lustily in Hilly Fields Wood...


  1. I have watched blackcaps feeding on apples, raisins, peanuts and bird seed in our garden and the blackcap is dominant over all but the most aggressive resident birds.

  2. Thanks for the info, Sarah. They are reputed to be aggressive at the bird table and that's one of the questions the BTO asked people to comment on in their survey.