Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
It's lovely when we see waxwings in the garden, as they don’t live here all year round. They pop over to the UK in the winter when they run out of berries in Finland. Small flocks (called ‘museums’) have been spotted in Scotswood and especially like to eat our rowan berries.
Waxwings are very striking birds to look at. They have a crest sticking up from the top of their head, a black throat, bright wings and a yellow tail tip. They are called waxwings because the flight feathers are tipped with red, which looks like the sealing wax that was used to stick down the envelope flaps of letters in years gone by.
Feral pigeon (Columba livia domestica)
Pigeons and doves are in the same bird family. They are all chubby-bodied, short-necked birds with a thin beak. In the UK, we often call the smaller species ‘doves’ and the larger ones ‘pigeons’. Another word for our city pigeon is ‘feral’ which just means wild rather than tame. Tame or ‘domesticated’ pigeons are those that are kept in cages in pigeon lofts for racing.
Pigeons feed on seeds, fruits and plants and can therefore be a pest for gardeners and farmers. They are mainly grey with green and purple shimmering patches and black wing bars. Take-off is a loud clatter of wings.
Their thin nest is a rough platform of fine twigs where 2 pure white eggs are laid. Pigeons ‘coo’ with a soft repetitive sound.
Bullfinch (Pyrrula pyrrula)
Bullfinches are found throughout Britain but they are not that common, so we are always excited when we spot them in the garden. Male birds have a black cap and a lovely pinky-red chest and female birds are similar but paler. You will see a flash of white on their wings when they fly. They are about 15cm from head to tail.
The bullfinch is known to eat mainly buds of trees and flowering shrubs. They really enjoy eating the apple blossom buds in the garden. Luckily we have plenty of apple trees at Scotswood Garden!
Their nests are built from fine twigs, moss and lichen and lined with dark rootlets. They lay about 4-5 eggs which are pale green/blue with dark purplish-brown speckles. Both parents feed the young by regurgitating food from special throat pouches. A pair of birds may raise two or three broods in a year.
The group name for lots of bullfinches is a "bellowing “which is funny because bullfinches have a soft, piping call. This sound carries a long way so it’s difficult to find where it’s coming from sometimes.
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
The wren is a very small (9cm) bird with a very loud ‘tit, tit, tit’ call . It is reddish-brown with a short, cocked tail. It hides and flits in a fast, direct way with its short, rounded wings.
The male makes, not one but several ball- shaped nests in hedges, ivy, old pots, buildings etc. The female then chooses just one of them in which to lay 5-8 white, speckled eggs.
Wrens like to eat insects and spiders as they flit from place to place.
Great Tit (Parus major)
The great tit is found all over Britain throughout the year. The name tit comes from an old word from Iceland: tittr, which means small. All of the tit family of birds are quite small. The great tit is the biggest tit (14cm) and can sometimes bully the other tits in the garden.
The adult bird has a black and white head and yellow belly with a black stripe down the middle. The colour of the females is a bit duller.
Like the other tits, they like to hang from trees and bird feeders to feed. They eat seeds, berries, spring buds, insects and scraps.
The nest is made in a hole in a tree and up to 12 eggs are laid one a day like the blue tit. Their favourite songs sound like ‘tee-cher, tee-cher, tee-cher’ and ‘pee-too, pee-too, pee-too’.
Blue tit (Parus caeruleus)
Blue tits are found all over Britain throughout the year. They can often be seen in the garden hanging upside-down in trees like little acrobats where they like to gather small caterpillars to feed their young. They also often visit bird feeders.
Males and females both have blue upper and yellow underparts, a white face and bright blue crown. Both are quite small at 12cm. They like to nest in holes and choose small openings in trees or even pieces of pipe.
Sometimes we make bird boxes with a small hole to let blue tits in but keep sparrows out. Up to 12 eggs are laid but usually just one per day. The female bird only sits on them when she has finished laying them all. She covers them with bits of nest lining to keep them warm until she is ready.
Blue tits call to each other and sing with two or three notes and a fast trilling noise. It sounds like:’’tee-tee-tee-tissississississi”
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
‘Robin redbreast’ is one of the friendliest small birds in the UK. Its bright red face and breast with brown upper and white underparts is featured on many seasonal pictures such as Christmas cards. Robins often follow gardeners in the hope that a juicy worm or small caterpillar may come their way. They are even known to feed from your hand.
Robins have a beautiful sweet song and often sing well in to the night. When they are scared they make a loud ‘tic, tic’ call.
Nests are sometimes made in sheds, holes or even old pots by the busy female birds. Males will often fight for their area to warn off any other males.
Magpie (Pica pica)
Magpies are large, loud and very easily seen. These black and white long-tailed birds have been moving in to cities since the 1940s. Some people think that it’s bad luck to see a magpie on its own as an old rhyme says : ‘one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy….’ The Newcastle United football team are called The Magpies with their black and white striped kit.
The nest is a scruffy looking dome of big twigs but it’s really cosy inside and lined with grass and moss. A pair often nest in the trees next to the bird-watching platform. They have a loud ‘cha-ha-ha-ha-ha-hack' call and live on meaty scraps, often steal eggs and even baby birds. A flock of magpies is sometimes called a ‘mischief’.
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
This common finch is present all year across all of the British Isles. The ‘coelebs’ part of its Latin name means ‘bachelor’ as they often group together in all-male flocks in the winter. Chaffinches often cheekily hang around tourist car parks waiting to be fed titbits. They are quite common at Scotswood Garden where they eat mainly weed seeds.
Male birds have a grey/blue head and neck with pinkish brown underparts. The female is brown but both have the same white stripes on their wings. Chaffinches are about 15cm from head to tail.
They build their nests in the bushes in the garden. Sometimes their eggs are bluish but some are brownish-white.
They have a song that sounds like ‘pink twink’ which changes a bit depending on where they live in the UK. So, listen out for those Geordie chaffinches in our garden!
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Starlings are very common birds found all over the UK with millions more arriving from the continent in winter. They are black with a purple and green iridescence (shine) and yellow beaks.
They are seen as a pest to farmers when they land to eat corn in fields but they really prefer leatherjackets and wireworms under the soil. They often land in large flocks on playing fields and gardens as well.
They are very skilled song mimics and can easily pretend to be other birds! Starlings make a high-pitched squeal when they land on ledges and trees together.
Murmurations (large, dancing, flying flocks) can be seen in the dusk sky in many areas near here. (see video below)