The well hidden spot which the nesting birds can find
by Paul Cormacain 07/03/2003
WE daily watch a pair of magpies building a nest about 20 metres from our front door. It is a fascinating business, and so easily visible.
It is now well over a month since we got reports of magpies building a nest near the roundabout at the international airport, and their timing was somewhat early. Our magpie neighbours must have consulted a better calendar.
Then there was a walk in the Leathamstown area, and we came across a pair of dippers building their nest in a well hidden spot.
It is so well hidden that I have gone to the very same spot every year for twenty plus years, just to see the birds nesting. I and the birds know the spot, but no one else does.
Every year, when the nest site is visited, the pair of birds look the same, but of course they are not! Small birds do not live for very many years, so the thinking is that a new pair of birds sets up home every few years.
The remains of the well made, well protected nest always lasts to the next breeding season, so if a new set of birds want to build a new nest, the old nest seems to beckon them.
I always have the feeling that last year's nest is repaired and brought tip to scratch annually, with the lining renewed.
Dippers usually make a nest under a bridge or on a riverbank, always inconspicuous and well hidden.
A river bank with a concave shape, with soiree growth hanging over the edge of the bank, is a favourite place for a nest, and the sort of place where I would normally find a dippers' nest.
It is one of the few birds to build a domed nest, just like a wren's nest, but much larger.
It is composed mainly of moss and is lined with dead leaves. The female lays about four or five eggs, white in colour, and white is easy to see in a dark, domed nest. Egg laying will commence as soon as the nest is finished.
The female incubates the eggs for about 17 days, then male and female feed the young. After about three weeks the young leave the nest, and mama and papa dipper start off all over again, and have another brood. Just like human parents, they are gluttons for punishment
The diet of the dipper is a very healthy, watery, diet, if you like that sort of thing. They eat water beetles, water-boatmen, caddis larvae, worms, spricks, tadpoles, any small fish.
The magpie also builds a roof over its nest, a Much larger, bulkier and less tidy nest than the clippers. The male and female collect small sticks and twigs, and build their nest with them. They come into our garden, and other neighbouring gardens, to collect their nest-building material.
At times there is a flurry of activity around the nest, then for hours you will see no birds about. But the birds are in no great hurry yet and will likely not lay eggs for another month.
When they get a sufficiency of twigs and sticks, that will be the first stage of nest-building completed. Then they need to get some mud and line the nest with that. The mud is covered with rootlets, and when it dries out it is quite an impressive structure.
Mrs magpie will then lay from four to seven eggs and incubate by herself for three weeks. When the young are born, both parents will feed them for a month, and their diet is more catholic than that of the dipper.
The birds eat insects, larvae, grain, fruit, seeds, eggs, young birds, small animals, carrion, frogs, snails, and they come into our garden to eat bread.
Soon we will have the patter of tiny dipper feet, and a month or two later the baby magpies will appear. In the meantime there is much calling around the country, and if you listen you will hear male birds calling incessantly for a wife.
Love is in the air, and you can observe if you look and listen more closely. The males you hear calling will one day go quiet, because a lady will have coyly approached, and intimated that 'she is willing'.
Soon all the birds will be breeding, and there will be no time for singing. Life will be all work!
Sunday 9 March - Try a Lagan Canal Walk, starting at 2pm, from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, phone 3832 2205
Saturday 15-Monday 31 March - St Patrick's Day Trail at Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146 for more details
Wednesday 19 March - Learn about Butterfly Recording in the south, with David Nash, Ulster Museum, at 7.15
Monday 24 March - At the monthly Lisburn RSPB meeting, Maurice McNeely will pose the question, why ring birds? This will he at Friends' Meeting House at 7.30, and about which more can be learned by calling 4062 6125
Saturday 29 March - Trip to Coney Island to watch the herons, at 10.30, details Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, 3832 2205
9 May - Preliminary notice of Bat Night at Bog Meadows.