Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
At this time of year some of the birdsong starts to tail off; a few chiffchaffs, robins, wren and blackbirds are still in good voice, but the enthusiasm is waning.
Indeed, go for a walk in the woods, as I did in Sheffield’s Ecclesall Woods recently, and you notice how quiet things are.
Admittedly, there were great spotted woodpeckers tapping a dead tree and urgently feeding a nest full of youngsters, but that aside it was very calm. I suspect that this is because the birds are all in my garden which is presently full of young blue tits and great tits, plus woodpeckers and nuthatches.
There was actually a sparrowhawk overhead at about 6.30am this morning and it was taking a rather unhealthy interest in the garden’s activity as it glided silently and ominously overhead. The sparrow were suddenly, perhaps wisely, absent. Still, the sparrowhawk has to eat as well!
Around my bird-feeders and on a specially-pruned ‘standard cotoneaster’ I have discretely placed apples in lieu of apple-trees that had to come down some years back. The cunning plan behind the artificial apple-trees was to lure down the elusive ring-necked parakeets of Norton and Graves Park.
Whilst it took a good few months to, if you pardon the pun, bear fruit, they have worked a treat, and a rather noisy pair of parakeets regularly visits.
However, a wintertime bonus was that the blackbirds loved the apples; and a summertime benefit is that the baby blue tits are feasting on them. In fact, the garden is presently teeming with young birds and they relish the sunflower seed hearts, the peanuts, and fat-balls, but especially the apples.
The smaller birds have to wait for a larger species to peck through the apple skin, but once they have done that, then they can feed vigorously whilst keeping a weather-eye open for the sparrowhawk. With up to four or five blue tits feeding together it is a noisy bustling scene, but I suspect five pairs of eyes beat one pair when it comes to spotting predator danger.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.