#WildWriter: What is That Bird?

It’s no secret that our native wildlife in the UK (and wherever you live, to be honest) is in turmoil. Rising temperatures, unpredictable weather and invasive species imported and exported by humans are threatening ecosystems worldwide.

Anyone who has read my writing will know that the natural world is incredibly important to me, as it should be to all of us. Lots of our wildlife faces its greatest challenge in the coming years.

Depending on the choices we make, human beings have the power either to save them or doom them.

I write a lot about the difficulties facing many animal species, including insects, birds and marine life. I’ve started building a little balcony wildlife haven and it’s quickly become clear to me that this haven is good for more than just the wildlife!

The Plight of Native Birds

When I think of British birds, I think of the plucky, little red-breasted robin, the obnoxious but intelligent magpies, the beautiful red jay, and gorgeous little species like goldfinches and blue tits. Wherever you live, you’ll have birds you recognise that make you feel at home.

But across the world, bird species are in decline.

I’m no conservationist, at least not by trade, so I couldn’t give you the ins and outs of exactly why it is that our bird species are struggling, but wherever you are in the world, according to what I’ve read, it is likely to be based on one or more of a few things:

  • Changes to, or destruction of, habitat. Often, this is the felling of woodland, forestry or rainforest, or the destruction of wetlands, to build housing or to make way for farms. It could also be the destruction of small habitats like hedgerows to expand fields or to turn land into building sites. It might also be changes to the climate, which make a certain habitat useless for that species, or which changes the behaviour of other animals and plants in that habitat.

  • Destruction of food supplies. This might be the decline of insects, the decline of particular plants or the decline of prey.

  • Competition from non-native species.

I love birds. Anyone who follows me on Instagram and twitter will know about my gorgeous little Quaker Parrot, Maya. Parrot species are really struggling in all their native climes, although in Britain, parakeets are an invasive species that are taking up food and nesting sites normally used by native British birds. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing these beautiful, bright green birds flying overhead and shouting their heads off. It’s not their fault they’ve been brought over and, in many cases, released by owners who had no idea exactly what it meant to keep a companion bird (it’s a BIG commitment and involves a lot of being bitten, screamed at and pooped on!) Unfortunately, they don’t understand the impact they’re having on other species.

They’re just doing what they do: surviving wherever they find themselves, even if it’s not the country or climate they should have hatched into.

None of us can make the dramatic changes needed to protect our wildlife through individual choices – that’s down to our governments and leaders (and we should be pestering them and lobbying them until they listen to us!) but we can make small, powerful choices ourselves about how to protect wildlife and provide havens for it wherever we are able.

I decided to set up a wildlife haven last year while I was reading about the challenges facing bees worldwide. I don’t have a garden, only a Juliet balcony in the living room of our first floor flat, so I had to be creative. However, it has brought me unbelievable joy, especially this spring when we got a new visitor!

The New Visitor

Up until January, this year, I’d been putting peanuts in my bird feeders. This caused much excitement amongst the local blue tits and a couple of larger species, but the nuts didn’t last long and were difficult for the smaller birds to eat on the little feeder, so I decided to replace the peanuts with sunflower hearts, a mix provided by the RSPB. The mix is a bit smaller and much easier for the birds to eat while perched on the feeders.

It took a while for the blue tits to get over the indignation of having their peanuts replaced, but one very brazen jay, far too big for my bird feeder, had a go and after that, the smaller birds plucked up the courage to try the new food.

It was an instant hit and before long, we had them lining up along the balcony, waiting for their turn on the feeder, which was a bit adorable. I’ve now added a window box feeder and a bowl so they don’t all have to queue for the hanging feeder. The bowl used to belong to my parrot but she is a ridiculous creature and, for some reason I’ve never deciphered, turned her beak up at it and refused to eat out of it. (She probably bit me too. She does this a lot when she’s cross about something.) So, I washed it out thoroughly and popped it out on our balcony, secured with some elastic string.

Then, one morning, I noticed a newcomer rooting around in my window feeder. I couldn’t see its face, only its fluffy orange bum wiggling about as it rummaged through the seed for a perfect morsel. I had absolutely no idea what it was. I’d never seen one like it before.

It looked a little like a cross between a kingfisher and a very tiny woodpecker.

It had a bright orange underside with a kind of blue-grey feathering on top, and a dark stripe running from its beak over its eyes on each side. With a long beak and a streamlined profile, it was far more angular than the fuzzy little blue tits I know and love. But it was beautiful and I was determined to find out what it was.

What Is That?

It took me ages to work out. I couldn’t take a picture of it. It was too fast and every photo was just an orange-and-grey blur. That scuppered any chance of sending it to a knowledgeable friend to identify. Instead, I took to the internet and googled ‘small British birds’.

I trawled through a lot of photos and after a couple of hours, managed to find a picture that matched my little visitor.

It was a Eurasian Nuthatch, sometimes called the Wood Nuthatch, and I was delighted to have finally identified it!

The Eurasian Nuthatch

According to the RSPB, the Eurasian or Wood Nuthatch is about the size of a great tit. It’s plump and resembles a tiny woodpecker. Watching it pecking away outside, I could absolutely see the resemblance.

They’re omnivorous, feeding on various insects as well as nuts and seed.

They’re about 14 cm long and weigh an adorably tiny 20-25g. My little parrot only weighs 100g and I can barely feel her weight on my hand sometimes, so the little nuthatches are a whisper of life, barely making a dent when they land! They’re woodland birds, so you’re unlikely to see one if you live in a city, but we certainly don’t live near what I would call a substantial woodland. We’ve just got a small, wooded area separating us from the local park, and the nuthatches seem very happy there.

I was pleased to find that the Eurasian nuthatch is a native British species and its conservation status is ‘Least Concern’, which means it’s doing pretty well! It’s widespread across England and Wales and can be seen at the very south of Scotland, too. They’re not migratory, so you can see them all year round.

If my little visitor is anything to go by, they’re also quite brazen!

A few days later, my nuthatch brought a friend, and now they are both regular visitors. I love seeing them. If you live outside the UK, I doubt you’ll get a chance to see a nuthatch visiting your bird feeder, but birds across the world are exquisite creatures, so whatever visits your bird feeder is likely to be a delight to watch!

I’d love to know what birds regularly visit your gardens and bird feeders, and whether or not you’ve spotted a visiting nuthatch!

We have a responsibility towards our wildlife, so if you don’t currently have a bird feeder up anywhere, and are able to, I would highly recommend it. It’s such a joy to see the birds visiting, feeding and thriving, and I now have a whole host of regular birds that visit my wildlife garden, each of which is providing ample inspiration for new characters and stories!


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