Wildlife Column: Birds responding to the cold snap

Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

Over the Christmas break I had some media enquiries to ask what the implications were if we had a recurrence of the fabled ‘Beast from the East’, (or as my Swedish and Norwegian friends called it, ‘winter’).

My suggestion was that we should expect to see an influx of birds into gardens, and across the region to watch out for visitors from northern Europe such as the ‘winter’ thrushes – redwings and fieldfares. They may be joined by the gorgeous waxwings. Birds come to feeders in part because food resources in the wider countryside get low at this time of year, but predominantly due to cold overnight temperatures causing them to lose body-fat very quickly. This means that small birds in particular have to re-fuel. So to help them along I suggest plenty of variety of feeders – with nuts, sunflower seed, niger seed (for the goldfinches), and of course, fat-balls. Apples are also good for thrushes and of course for the increasing numbers of parakeets.

Blue Tit.

Blue Tit.

The result in my own garden was pretty much as predicted with a big hike in the numbers of blue tits, coal tits and great tits on the feeders. For the first time this winter, goldfinches and greenfinches have arrived too, and have been joined by a pair of robins. The blackbirds are mixing my local birds with what I suspect are European migrants. One male that appears to be acting quite territorially and is in spectacular plumage is probably already nesting. The female is also being aggressive towards intruders. Another new addition to the bird-table was a solitary starling, a bird once commonplace but now increasingly rare. Again, starlings migrate in from Europe and local numbers are boosted to sometimes amazing numbers to produce roost-sites with ‘murmurations’. Nice additions to the feeding birds in the garden included a pair of collared doves, again a pecies that seems to come and go, maybe in response to the large numbers of big, bulky woodpigeons. Another welcome visitor was a nuthatch coming to the table for easy-pickings of peanuts, and was joined by a female great spotted woodpecker.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues