This is one of the best times of the year for watching birds in your garden. The British Isles are a major flyway for those migrating south for the winter, some birds dropping in to rest and feed, others staying here until early spring. Within Britain resident birds also move south, often ahead of bad weather. With the leaves falling from the trees it is easier to see them as they are attracted to nuts, berries and windfall fruit.
Look out for various thrushes, especially blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares. (As I write this there are six blackbirds in my small garden.) Redwings are about the same size, with distinctive red flanks and underwings, and a prominent cream eye-stripe. Fieldfares are bigger and have a grey head and rump. Redwings and fieldfares are winter visitors from northern climes. They often move around in mixed flocks, gently squabbling over who goes where in the hedge.
Unlike the neighbourhood sparrows, the blue and great tits in your garden may not be the same birds each day. They too gather together to forage for food, and often pass through on their journeys south. More finches are likely to be seen; as well as chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches you may be lucky to receive a visit from colourful hawfinches and bramblings.
Another species which forms winter feeding flocks is the acrobatic long-tailed tit. They have really taken to visiting gardens in the last few years. Often it is their constant ‘tsip, tsip, tsip’ calls that alert you to their impending arrival on your seed feeders. They are easily recognised because no other small bird has such a long tail in relation to its body. Despite their name, they are not in the tit family at all, but in a small family with only 11 species, which includes the north American bushtit.
In the afternoons look out for starlings gathering together as they move towards their roosts, whilst overhead jackdaws ‘chuck-chuck’ their way back home for the night. Then there are the ‘loners’ such as robins, wrens and dunnock, and perhaps nuthatches and woodpeckers. Sitting on roofs and in the trees, watching over all the others, will probably be woodpigeons and magpies, both of which also form winter flocks.
The flowers and leaves may be fading, but the birds bring life and colour, which more than makes up for that.