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Never one to miss the chance for a sing-song, Michaela Strachan creates her very own Christmas rhyme for the birds, and gets some useful information in there, too!

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa la la la la la la la la
Tis the season to be jolly
Fa la la la la la la la la

Yes itís the festive season. Hurrah! Christmas trees, pantos, mince pies and presents. Anyway, hopefully by now youíve all bought your bird feeders and have got your nuts, seeds and coconuts swinging wildly in the garden and are enjoying watching your feathered garden visitors. (If not, check out last monthís article for ideas, see below).

As you know, I do like to start articles off with a musical song, so this month I thought Iíd put my mind to a Christmas garden bird guide rhyme to give you a festive intro to your garden birds. Itís just a taster and I would definitely recommend purchasing a proper book for a more comprehensive guide, (in fact, what a good idea for a Christmas present).

I should also warn you that poetry was never my strong point, but in true seasonal spirit and mulled wine at the ready Iíve decided to give it a go!!

C is for the CHAFFINCH
a bird youíll often see
nibbling the garden nuts
or perching high up in a tree

The CHAFFINCH is actually a woodland bird but a common garden visitor. In fact itís thought to be the commonest British land bird. Itís particularly partial to tall trees, which provide food and song posts. The male is easy to identify with itís pink breast, slate blue head and white shoulders and wing patches. The female looks a bit like a female sparrow with white flashes on its wings and tail. They eat a variety of seeds and scraps and, being ground feeders, prefer to nibble the seeds that have fallen to the ground than perch on a table or nut feeder.

H is for the HOUSE SPARROW
a bird youíll certainly see a lot
unlike the poor old tree sparrow
whose numbers have dramatically dropped

The HOUSE SPARROW is definitely an LBJ, little brown job! (although the male does have a grey crown and black throat to its credit.) Itís also a common garden visitor and, as its name suggests, often nests around buildings. It has thrived around human settlements. The poor old tree sparrow has not been quite so fortunate. Its numbers have declined dramatically in the last 20 years mainly due to changes in farming methods, although they are slowly becoming a more common site in gardens. Youíll often see house sparrows on your feeders and taking scraps. They are also partial to stinging nettles.

R is for the ROBIN
a bird we all love and know so well
a symbol of Christmas, a gardenerís friend
and extremely easy to tell.

Now everyone should be able to spot a ROBIN. An LBJ with a wonderful red breast. The good old robin has been voted Britainís national bird. Robins are very territorial, they rely on their own territories for breeding and a private food supply and will sing to claim and defend especially in winter. At this time of the year robins pair up so you may well see a male and female in the same area. Robins are particularly associated with gardeners and often perch expectantly on a spade waiting for fresh worms to be disturbed. If youíre brave enough to put mealworms out on your garden table youíll make your local robin very happy. They also enjoy bread, meat, potatoes, fat, seeds and nuts. We do like to think that our friendly Robin comes back every year. Sadly this is not the case. Most robins will only live an average of just over a year, but a good territory will soon be taken over by a lookalike!

I is for the pIGEON
OK I accept thatís a bit of a cheat
But you try finding a garden bird beginning with I
I think youíll find itís an impossible feat!

I know, I could have had Ibis! But itís not exactly a garden bird in this country is it? And anyway, how could I leave out the PIGEON? Itís certainly a very common bird in our garden, and very comical when it tries to imitate the smaller birds by hanging precariously on the nut feeder! Street pigeons are the descendants of a variety of domestic breeds and their numbers are continually increasing.

S is for the STARLING
youíll see them in huge numbers at this time of year
theyíre looking to roost in undercover places
A bridge, a tunnel, a pier.

Next time you see a STARLING take a good look. Theyíre actually very beautiful birds with a wonderfully glossy plumage of green, purple and blue and covered in speckles. Theyíre bold, lively, voracious and are great imitators. They roost in communal roosts and are a sight to behold at dusk when they gather in huge numbers. Youíll often see them on your lawn looking for insects but they also like bread, scraps, bones, and peanuts.

T is for the TITS
Iíd be surprised if you donít see a few
You may see a long tailed, a great or a coal
But the most common youíll see is the blue.

BLUE TITS love nuts and will perform all sorts of acrobatics to get them! They are quick to learn and were the original doorstop milk stealers. Theyíre easy to tell by the bright blue on their heads and wings and they really are sweet little birds, they are also the most common users of tit boxes.

M is for the MAGPIE
not to be seen as just black and white
look closer itís a technicolor monochrome
Beautifully iridescent in bright light.

The poor old MAGPIE gets a rough time from a lot of people who blame it for killing lots of baby birds. But let me tell you, a great deal of the blame should go to the huge amount of moggies we have in this country. They may look sweet and innocent all curled up by the radiator, but many of them can be mean bird murderers.

A is for birds like the ARCTIC
WARBLER now donít scoff, I know that theyíre rare
but I went to the Scillies in October this year
and in a garden in St. Maryís there was definitely one there!

Youíd be lucky to see an ARCTIC WARBLER in your garden, they are pretty rare in this country. When I went to the Scillies for whatís known as the Scilly bird watching season, one was spotted in someoneís back garden, next thing we knew, hundreds of keen birders in green waterproofs were ticking it off a list and looking very chuffed! Itís a very unassuming looking little bird similar to a chiffchaff.

S is for the SPARROW HAWK
and other birds of prey
now if theyíre common in your neck of the woods
you may have to put the nuts and seeds away!

Our garden is too small to have regular birds of prey visiting. Beautiful as they are, the last thing you want to do is to encourage lots of birds to your feeders only to have them swooped on by a passing sparrowhawk! That really wouldnít be part of the Christmas spirit now would it !!

Stay gardening wild and have a marvellous festive season!!

See also Michaelaís article: Feed the birds

Photographs © Oxford Scientific Films

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