International Dawn Chorus Day is the worldwide celebration of nature’s daily miracle. This year there will be more opportunities than ever to join in the excitement. In the run up to the event events from all over the world and across the UK will be listed on www.idcd.info/ so visit regularly to see what’s planned in your area.
Celebrated on the first Sunday of May, the story goes that International Dawn Chorus Day began in the 1980s when broadcaster and environmentalist Chris Baines asked everyone to attend his birthday party at 4am so they could enjoy the dawn chorus with him. Since then IDCD has grown from a small event in Birmingham UK to an annual international celebration with Dawn Chorus events held as far afield as the Caribbean and Antarctica.
Date: 3 May 2015
Venue: Visit www.idcd.info/events/ for information on venues.
Indigenous to the mountains of central China, Golden Pheasants (Chrysolophus pictus) are spectacularly beautiful birds that are so well adapted to living in captivity they have become popular pets in many countries far from their original habitat. Some researchers are of the opinion that the Golden Pheasant was likely the first species of pheasant brought into North America in the mid-1700s, and they have formed several feral populations in parts of the United Kingdom.
The Golden Pheasant and Lady Amherst Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) are both Ruffed Pheasants, so named for the ruff the male spreads around his face and neck as part of his courtship ritual. The female Golden Pheasant is brown in color with dark rippled bars running from her head down her body and wings, while her face, throat and rump are buff. The male, on the other hand, is one of the most colorful birds around, with a silky-golden crest, tinged with red at the tips. Its face, chin, throat and sides of its neck are a rusty tan color, while its orbital skin and wattles are yellow. The ruff of the Golden Pheasant is light orange, with a bluish-black border on each feather. The green upper back of the bird contrasts beautifully with its golden-yellow back and rump, while its scarlet breast blends into a light chestnut color on its flanks and underparts. Its tertiary wing feathers are blue, with dark red scapulars, while its central tail feathers are black with buff spots and the tip of its tail being buff.
Although they are brightly colored, they are not always easy to spot in their natural habitat of dense forest, so not much is known about their habits in the wild. What is known is that they forage on the ground, eating grain, leaves and invertebrates, and they can fly short distances, roosting in trees at night.
As they are compatible with other types of birds (but not always with other pheasant species), Golden Pheasants can be kept in an environment with waterfowl, peafowl, doves, pigeons and other birds. They are very hardy, breed easily in captivity and the chicks are easy to raise. As such, Golden Pheasants are a good choice for first-time pheasant owners and a firm favorite among veteran bird keepers.
While the subspecies of the European robin (Erithacus rubecula melophilus), more commonly known as the ‘robin redbreast’, is widely considered to be Britain’s national bird, the fact is that that there is at present no official bird for the United Kingdom, and with a vote currently underway, the robin redbreast may very well find itself dethroned in favor of one of the other fifty-nine bird species voters can choose from. Voting for the top six contenders closes at midnight on the 31st of October, and re-opens in January 2015, when the field of six will be narrowed down to one which will receive the title of Britain’s National Bird on the day of the general election in May 2015.
The European robin was first described by renowned Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus in his 18th century journal Systema Naturae where he built upon the formal system of naming species devised by 16th century Swiss botanists Gaspard and Johann Bauhin to make a detailed record of the Animal Kingdom, Plant Kingdom and Mineral Kingdoms.
Measuring between 12.5 and 14 cm in length, male and female robins are similar in features, with orange-red breast and face, bluish-grey on the sides of the neck and chest, grey-brown upperparts and a whitish belly. A familiar sight around Britain, robins are insectivorous and are welcomed by gardeners as they feed on garden pests, although beneficial insects, of course, are also on the menu. They are quite unafraid of being around people and will also eat seed mixtures in backyard feeders. During breeding season, male robins become very territorial and may viciously attack intruding birds. They are known to nest in some unusual places, including disused barbecues, machinery, watering cans, flower pots and other items. They use moss, leaves, grass and other items to make the nest, and line it with hair, feathers, finer grass and anything else that is soft. The female lays between two or three clutches of eggs in the breeding season, each of which may consist of five or six eggs. Mortality rate in the first year of life is high, but robins have been known to live as long as 12 years if they make it past the first vulnerable 12 months.
Among the contenders for the title of Britain’s National Bird are the mute swan, mallard, tufted duck, eider, red grouse, pheasant, great crested grebe, gannet, cormorant, grey heron, golden eagle, osprey, red kits, hen harrier, buzzard, kestrel , peregrine, avocet, oystercatcher, lapwing, curlew, snipe, herring gull, puffin, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, turtle dove, ring-necked parakeet, cuckoo, tawny owl, barn owl, swift, kingfisher, great spotted woodpecker, skylark, swallow, pied wagtail, waxwing, wren, robin, nightingale, black redstart, song thrush, blackbird, blackcap, chiffchaff, blue tit, long-tailed tit, magpie, jay, jackdaw, carrion crow, starling, house sparrow, chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, bullfinch and yellowhammer.
Birdland Park & Gardens, located in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, is home to more than 500 birds representing around 140 species, including pelicans, flamingos, penguins, storks, cranes, cassowary and a variety of waterfowl in their water habitats, with over 50 aviaries housing exotic parrots, owls, toucans, touracos, pheasants, hornbills and more. The park is also home to the only King penguins to be found in England, Ireland and Wales and a webcam allows visitors an up-close view of these fascinating birds. Specialized habitats at the park include the Desert House and Toucan House. The Marshmouth Nature Walk covers an area of 2.5 acres with a network of pathways featuring hides and feeding stations, offering visitors an opportunity to enjoy the wildlife in a tranquil haven.
The Discovery Zone features a play and seating area with two display areas, one of which offers examples of all classes of animals, including birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals and amphibians, with the other answering the question “What is a bird?” Explanations include the purpose of a bird’s feathers and how they relate to camouflage, displays in courtship, warning signals and habitat conditions. The Snowy Owl is a good example of the multiple uses of feathers with dense feathers and feathered feet offering warmth in their Arctic habitat and their color providing camouflage. The use of beaks, feet, legs and claws are detailed, along with various feeding habits. Nesting habits of birds, their breeding cycles, fledglings and parenting patterns are other fascinating topics covered at Birdland. Birds of prey – vultures, falcons, hawks, eagles, harriers and owls – are among the highlights of a visit to this nature sanctuary, and visitors will discover how they use their keen eyesight, speed in flight and talons to catch their prey with deadly accuracy.
The Desert House is home to birds that live in arid conditions, and visitors can view the birds from a platform at one end of the habitat, while the Toucan House is home to a range of these colorful birds. Events at Birdland include a Summer Talks program; Meet the Keeper; Penguin Feed; Pelican Feed; and Birds of Prey Encounter Days. Facilities include a playground, gift shop and the Penguin Café – everything necessary for a memorable family outing.
Swooping through the air in flocks of up to a million birds, starlings have long been a feature of rural life in the United Kingdom. A flock of starlings in flight looks like a dark cloud constantly changing shape as they expand and contract randomly with no apparent leader. This bustle of activity usually takes place near their nesting grounds, in both rural and urban settings, and while some see them as pests, primarily because such large flocks of birds produce large amounts of droppings which can become toxic, starlings are considered to be part of the UK’s natural heritage. So, a recent report by the RSPB based on the annual Big Garden Birdwatch showing that the starling population in the UK had dropped by 80 percent since 1979, with almost a third disappearing in the past decade, is viewed as a cause for concern. Research further reveals that, since 1980, up to 40 million starlings have vanished from European Union countries, translating into a rate of 150 birds an hour.
As primarily insectivorous birds, but eating grains, fruit, and seeds if available, starlings keep insect numbers in check. They have an interesting feeding habit that ensures all in the flock are fed. As they forage amongst short-cropped grasses, birds from the back will continually fly to the front so eventually every bird will have had an opportunity to lead the flock and be first in line to probe the ground for insects. They are also very successful at snatching insects in mid-flight. Unpaired males build nest with which to attract a potential mate, and they often decorate the nest with flowers and green foliage. Upon accepting a mate, the female promptly discards the decorations. Males sing as they construct their nests and will launch into their full repertoire if a female approaches the nest. With starlings nesting quite closely together in large numbers, courting season is a lively time.
The RSPB has launched a research project to try and determine the cause of the drastic decline and formulate a conservation plan. RSPB researchers will be working in conjunction with farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset to examine whether there are sufficient nesting sites and food sources for starlings resident in livestock areas. Conservation director for the RSPB, Martin Harper, noted that they hope the research will yield the information necessary to provide the starlings with a secure future through the development of practical and cost effective solutions for farmers and land managers to implement.