26 Sept 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Siskins are a sure sign of spring

Wild About Wildlife: Siskins are a sure sign of spring

Siskins only venture in the urban back gardens when seeds are hard to come by in their woodland homes Picture: Pexels

WEATHER in March can change in the space of an hour. One minute the sun is out and you can feel the warmth on your body and next you are reaching for you coat as a chilly wind picks up.
Birds too are feeling the pinch and I am finding that I need to regularly top up the bird feeders. This attracts several great tits, blue tits and the occasional coal who hang acrobatically from the slender branches of the elderberry tree to get at the nuts and seeds.
Last Saturday I was pottering in the kitchen as high winds and snow lashed the garden. It had been very calm all morning and then the weather had suddenly turned. A flash of yellow on the feeder caught my attention. I was just in time to see my first Siskin of the year. These birds only visit my garden when the alder and birch seeds are exhausted in the long valley on the woodlands near my house.
They come looking for peanuts and can be very quarrelsome among themselves and with the other birds. They usually arrive around the end of January but the weather has been very mild this year and this is reflected in the late arrival of the siskins.
They will stay around for a month or more and then disappear into their breeding grounds. I sometimes come across small flocks of feeding siskins and redpolls when walking underneath alder and birch trees.
Siskins are very distinctive and their overall plumage is yellow. Their tail is deeply forked and they have a long narrow bill. Their belly is whitish and the female is streakier. Males also have a small black bib and crown.
The following day I popped into the city to do a few bits and pieces. The sun was out and I took a walk along the river.
I paused to admire the amazing stonework and architecture of the bridge and nature too was using this structure. A narrow ledge was located around a meter down from the top of the bridge. Along this ledge there were several feral pigeons basking in the midday sun.
This mimics their ancestral home of costal cliffs and rock doves are their distant ancestors. Generations later they now come in a bewildering range of colours from greens, purples, greys and whites.
This was an ideal place to rest and they were perfectly safe from predators. There is a peregrine falcon in the area and she uses the top of the highest buildings to scan for birds like pigeons.
The bird life in the river was just as interesting. I spotted a cormorant surfacing after been diving for fish. They can stay under water for up to a minuet and when their bellies are full they fly onto the nearby jetty.
Here they stretch out their wings and the commonly held belief is that they were drying their wings. This makes no sense as the natural outline of the feathers and their oils keep the cormorant very dry. The current theory is that the holding out of the wings helps them to digest large meals.
In a small park by the river a thick strand of yellow and red dogwood had established. This was the afternoon roost for dozens of starlings who had an amazing repertoire for anyone who cared to stop and listen.
Spring is wakening up with birds, plants and insects all waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

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