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It's that time of year again....

Posted on 19th August, 2020

“Where are they? My garden’s normally full of birds, but now there are hardly any!” So goes the most asked question of birdwatchers at this time of year. And with good reason. At the very time when the country’s bird population is probably at its greatest with all this year’s youngsters swelling the total, not only have the birds gone quiet, they’ve deserted our garden feeders too.

There’s a perfectly simple explanation. To begin with, Nature is providing a veritable smorgasbord of food: insects, seeds, berries and fruits of all kinds fill the hedgerows so suddenly the sunflower hearts and fatballs may seem less appealing to our regular garden visitors, and the smaller, or less dominant, birds don’t have to queue for their turn when there is so much available in the nearby bushes.

And a nearby bush, especially if it’s a thorny bramble, sloe or hawthorn, is a good place to be for many birds as most are now moulting. Not only does the cover afford food within easy reach, it means safety from predators at a time when birds’ flying is impaired because they don’t have a full set of flight feathers. They can still fly, but not so well as each wing could have three or four feathers either missing or not fully grown. Their body feathers are all being systematically replaced too, and this all adds to the energy requirement for new feather growth, so sitting quietly doing nothing frees up the calories for it.


Image may contain: sky, bird, outdoor and nature

 

This heron is moulting its flight feathers. The gap in the right wing (fifth feather in)

is a new feather growing. It is still only half-grown and the gap will make flying

just that little bit harder until it the feather completes its growth. Look carefully

and you can see the difference in colour between the four old, paler feathers

on the outside and the darker new feathers. This moutl will be mirrored in

both wings to make flying easier.


It has to be said that they don’t look their best either - a bit tatty, if we’re honest.

 

 

Young starlings still have a mixture of brown juvenile feathers sticking out of

their iridescent adult plumage.

 

Normally smart robins can look as though they’ve been in a stand-off with another robin that ended in fisticuffs; and a bald-headed blackbird that may have finally finished raising its second or even third brood appearing to gone ten rounds with ‘our ‘Enery’.

In a matter weeks though, their smart new plumage will be ready for the rigours of migration for those that do it, or for surviving an English winter (whatever that may turn out to be like) for those that don’t.

 

Image may contain: bird, sky and outdoor

 

Blackcaps have a black 'cap' normally - the clue's in the name. Except that

females and juvenile birds have brown ones (confused?). This is a juvenile bird

that we ringed a few days ago, so it has a brown cap. But we know it is a male

bird because, in the hand, we could see it is moulting its juvenile feathers and

could just see tiny black feathers beginning to grow on its head. If you enlarge

the picture you can just see the black feathers in the centre of it. Other new

feathers are growing too. If you look at the pale strip of feathers on its 'shoulder'

there are tiny white shafts of the new feathers coming through in place of the old

ones that have fallen out. He looks a bit messy at the moment but in a month's

time he'll be a smart new male, fattening himself up on elderberries ready to

migrate to the Mediterranean.

With any luck we'll retrap him in the same place next spring! 

 

The robin, furthermore, unique among our garden visitors, is already singing its mournful autumn song in preparation for establishing its winter territory.

 

Autumn will be well underway.

 

The photos in this month's blog are all take from Marden Wildlife - a Facebook page dedicated to the wildlife of a Kent country parish.

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