Big thank you from

Your chance to help record bird habits

by Paul Cormacain 07/09/2001

IN recent years we have seen great co-operation between Britain and Ireland in things wildlife.

The habitat and frequency of birds has been monitored in both summer and winter, thousands of folk observed and contributed records, and a number of very important books have portrayed this knowledge in a very readable way.

Then recently was published a most well researched study of butterflies in Ireland and Britain, which I have mentioned previously.

Now Gavin Fennessy wants to study bird nesting records on an all-Ireland basis.

Highly laudable, and I think we should all help out, as overall records can be much more revealing than occasional local ones.

It might be even better if we rope in Wales, Scotland and England, then we could have a much more comprehensive report.

We have still a lot to learn in relation to the basics, typical choice of nest site, timing of nesting, numbers of young, and their survival rating.

Even if we are checking some details of even a common bird there seems to be almost a hit-or-miss attitude about the information provided in some of our books. A survey would help us with our information.

Aware of the dreaded Foot and Mouth, Fennessy foretells us it will be difficult to do some monitoring work, but even details of our own house and garden birds would be most useful.

For the first time in Britain or Ireland, there is now a website for this survey, Here you can find tips on where and when to look for nests, how to monitor any data you may obtain, and there is the facility for submitting nesting observations.

And if the miracle of science leaves you cold, or you do not have a computer, you could write to Gavin at Zoology Department, Lee Maltings, University College, Cork.

Anyone with records for the current year could help.

The blackbirds have almost grown up. We watched their parents 'courting', there were two sets in the area.

We watched them go off to slyly and shyly lay eggs, and incubate them. Where they laid the eggs and brought up the very young birds was supposed to remain a secret, and for our part we never told either cat or human of the nest's whereabouts.

The parents were quiet during incubation. When the young were born they were kept very busy, ferrying innumerable feeds of food for unfillable mouths and bellies. They grabbed insects from ground, bush and tree, ferried them off home and stuffed them into the first gaping bill. When one bill gaped, they all gaped.

So they took to taking our bread, thrown out most days for them to feed on and they fed the young on it.

It got to the stage that when I walked out the back door, one or more blackbirds would pop along for food, and if there was no food I was shamed into providing it.

Then the young birds left the nest, still with their bills open and a larger appetite. The parents went even more frantic to try to fill the mouths, and frequently the young sat in a nearby hedge while the adults procured bread from our endless store and fetched it to them.

Then the young got braver, more independent, and started to come and fetch food for themselves. They also bullied the parents into supplying it.

The rowan berries were now ripening, so the birds took to feeding up the rowan trees. Young would sit, cry, open their bills, and the old parents would lift a berry and stuff it into their mouths. It was easier for the parents, they did not even have to fly. As opposed to that, the young had an insatiable appetite.

I can still see many ripe rowan berries on other trees, but the two trees in our garden have been stripped bare.

The blackbirds are rarely seen now. Perhaps they are away stripping some one else's rowan tree. No doubt they will be back here for more food when the cold weather sets in.

Coming Events

Saturday 8 September - Fancy a wee walk or a good dander over the hills? Two-hour guided walk over the Cave Hill, organised by Bryson House at 9am.
Food for Free at 2.30 amid the countryside around Oxford Island, phone 028 3822 2205

Saturday 8-Sunday 9 September - European Heritage Open Day, details in Guides at libraries.

Saturday 15, Sunday 16 September- - Billed as Northern Ireland's biggest animal event, Castle Espie is hosting, commencing at loam each day. More from 028 9187 4146.

Saturday 15 September - Cave Hill Walk at 9am, looking through geologists, eyes. Call Bryson house for more on 028 9040 1684

Sunday 16 September - Fancy a mild cycle along the Newry Canal at 3pm? No traffic, fresh air, exercise, good company, what more do you want ?

Saturday 22 September - Moth Outing at Belfast Harbour Estate, from RSPB hide at 7.30pm. Details from Inn Rippey, 028 3833 3927
Marie Curie Cancer Care Cycle, Strangford or Downpatrick start, details from 028 90761358.
Harvest Fair at Lough Neagh's Oxford Island at 1.30pm, with food, crafts and story-telling. Contact 028 3832 2205

Thursday 27 September - Birdwatch Morning at 10.30 at Castle Espie, more from 028 9187 4146

Saturday 29 September - A 1pm hunt for fungus at Drumbanagher Estate, Poyntzpass, and if you want to find out more phone 028 2766 2953

Ulster Star