Nature Notes – December 2016

Along the side of our drive is a line of Roses, planted by the late Jean De Gale, our predecessor here. They are Rosa rugosa, unusual for roses in that they were grown from seed, and which I like for several reasons. The flowers, as well as being attractive (large, single, pink or white) have a very good scent, and enormous rose-hips which several birds find of interest. They are too big for any of the berry-feeding birds to swallow, but just at the moment there are a number of Greenfinches visiting them, pecking away the flesh to eat the seeds. he other birds I have seen on them are Bluetits, which seem to be pecking at the flesh itself. Wild rosehips, of course, are common in the hedgerows at the moment, and will show bright red until later in the winter, when they shrivel and turn black. These are difficult for birds to eat. They are too large for all but the bigger thrushes, Blackbirds and Fieldfares, and are attached tightly to the stalk. Again greenfinches will raid them for the seeds. Woodpigeons occasionally eat them in bad weather. Unusually, when they do, the seeds remain undigested, so in this case the Woodpigeons act as seed dispersers rather than ‘seed predators’. Normally in the case of fruits such as Ivy, which are still green until they ripen to black at the end of the winter, pigeons can eat them early in order to digest the seeds. This is cheating —the ‘evolutionary deal’ is that birds should disperse the seed without digesting it in return for being fed!

Jays, Squirrels and Woodpigeons have all been busy feeding on the acorns, so that by now there are few left. Latterly they were in the evergreen oaks (Holm Oaks) that are planted here and there in our area, taking the small, pointed acorns which that tree produces. Jays and Squirrels (but not Pigeons) hide these away just as they do ordinary acorns. From time to time we find young Holm Oak seedlings popping up in the garden, but I’m not sure which has ‘planted’ them.

Winter is the time for cleaning out any bird nesting boxes you may have. On balance, I think this is beneficial. Birds’ nests contain populations of parasites such as fleas, which become adults to await the return of birds in the spring. I have seen nestboxes on a sunny day in late winter with the entrance hole surrounded by bird fleas, just waiting for a bird to enter! On the other hand, nestboxes are sometimes used by very small birds, particularly Bluetits and Wrens as a sheltered place to on cold winter nights. Bluetits roost do this singly, but wrens sometimes congregate in numbers to roost together. In case this happens, it is probably not a bad idea to replace the old nest with a small amount of some similar material, such as dry moss.

Watch out for any of the winter visiting finches such as Redpolls, once (or if) the weather gets cold. Siskins, if they visit, typically come a bit later into the new year. 80th these birds prefer the fine black seed marketed as Nyger, which is particularly good for attracting Goldfinches. Birds may be slow to visit feeders if there is a good autumn supply of natural seed.

Geoffrey Abbott