One of the most spectacular local wildlife sights, is surely the huge murmurations of starlings along the South Coast in the depths of Winter.
Starlings are native to Sussex all year round, and if you feed the birds in your garden, you will certainly be familiar with them. They are gregarious noisy squabbling birds, that soon empty a bird feeder, and ecstatically splash all the water out of a bird bath when they fancy a communal bath!
They are remarkable mimics too. Last year one in my garden, had the noise of a power drill down to a tee, after listening to builders a few doors down for months! The other day I heard one perfectly echoing a mobile phone ringing and check out this beat box star!
— BBC Earth (@BBCEarth) May 10, 2019
In Winter they are joined by thousands more birds from Europe, and as dusk falls they take to the skies, small flocks, joining larger ones, forming incredible acrobatic clouds of birds, that dance across the sunset skies.
Eventually they all decide it is time to roost, and they all swoop as one, and find a spot for the evening, under and on a pier, up on telegraph poles, on cranes, in bushes or wherever they can. Eventually the noisy chattering will cease, and they’ll wait until it’s light and they can return to their gardens and get breakfast!
Feeding the birds
Over winter it is important to help our garden birds if you can, as many species including the starlings, are declining in numbers.
If you can offer a variety of food, water and bushes and trees, you will be rewarded with numerous birds visiting. The more you watch them, the more you will get to know their habits. When you are totally familiar with your regulars, you will be more likely to notice any more unfamiliar birds that turn up in your garden. Last winter a blackcap popped in my garden, a thrush often arrives in January to eat all the berries, and a couple of years ago a black redstart was an inexplicable regular in our (completely paved!) front drive and road. In Winter we have occasionally had a magnificent sparrowhawk taking advantage of the crowds at the bird feeder, though you’d have to be quick to see it pounce!
It’s often the behaviour of the birds that makes you spot something different, not just the colour, shape and size, so keep your eyes peeled and you never know what you might spot.
The RSPB Garden Bird Watch
It’s so important that we find out how our birds are doing, and that’s why the Garden Bird Watch is such a great idea. You can sign up here
You just need an hour over the weekend of 25-27 January, watching the birds in your garden (or local park!) counting the species you see, and the most you see at any one time. Report your findings back to the RSPB so that they can find out how our most common birds are doing, and which other birds are relying on our gardens. Some birds like goldfinches have become more common in gardens, and I was delighted to see these in my garden this year. You can encourage these colourful birds with niger seed feeders!
Do let us know how you get on. It doesn’t matter if you only spot a few of the most common birds, or even none at all – all the records are hugely important when combined together, to give a picture of the birds in our county and country.
BTO Garden Birdwatch
If you get a taste for counting birds, the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) have volunteers who count garden birds all year round. You can find out more here
“The collection of such information is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (and other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers. BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a ‘citizen scientist’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why, and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain.” BTO
Don’t forget you can also find out more about birds with the Sussex ornithological society
Other local organisations including Sussex Wildlife Trust and Lewes Railway land also run guided bird watch events. Check our our calendar for more details.
Good luck fellow citizen scientists, do let us know how you get on! Together we really can make a difference!