Birdwatching under lockdown

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By Charlotte O’Neill |

Blackbird song spills into a dark and brooding sky; the daylight has barely touched the edges of the rooftops and leylandii trees as the night feeds into day, so gradually it is mostly unnoticeable. It is 4:50AM and I should probably be in bed. Bleary-eyed, I walk into the garden and set my camera on video to capture one of spring’s most amazing spectacles from my back garden. The dawn chorus is a wonderful experience, ranging from a multitudinous serenade of birdcalls to the distinct song of the individuals who live in your local urban spaces. This morning I heard the blackbirds, gulls, and robins as they awoke with the sun, soon followed by the chirping calls of sparrows nesting in the bushes.

“It is easy to forget the wildlife that can be found on our doorstep”

The common robin | Unsplash

I believe that now more than ever it is important to remain engaged with nature. Whilst we are restricted from accessing spaces such as nature reserves and national parks, it is easy to forget the wildlife that can be found on our doorstep. Even the most urban areas are home to wildlife of some kind, and the most common of species are just as interesting and important to our ecosystems. One way that we can connect to nature during this time is through birdwatching.

According to the RSPB, the most common birds seen in UK gardens are starlings, sparrows and blackbirds among others. These birds have often adapted to survive in the urban environment, with blackbirds singing at higher pitches to compete with city noise. Being under lockdown does not have to stop us from engaging with nature, even if you don’t have a garden. Here are some ways you can get to know your local flighted friends:

Bird recording

Spring migration occurs at this time of the year when wintering birds leave the area to be replaced by summer visitors such as swallows, swifts, cuckoos and house martins. Funnily enough, your bedroom window may make for the perfect lookout spot, as these birds can be seen migrating from place to place. You might want to make a list of who you spot, which can then be uploaded to apps such as Birdtrack, which allows scientists to access the data you provide. Migrating birds can also be heard through equipment such as nocmig recorders. These record the noises made by migrating birds as they pass over at night. My friend in Reading has even overheard redwing and little owls on his device, which he otherwise wouldn’t have known had flown past!

More local birds can be seen flying around resting on rooftops and in trees. By making a list of these birds and their behaviours, you can get to know your local wild residents a little better.

Live cams

You can also birdwatch digitally. Many trusts, charities and reserves have cameras set up in the nests of birds and at feeding sites. These allow viewers to watch interesting behaviour whilst not disturbing the animals themselves.

Swallows migrate to the UK for the summer months | Unsplash

Learning calls

Most deadlines are nearly or already upon us, and during lockdown a lot of us have hours to spare. I have found a good way to pass the time is through learning birdsong; this allows us to identify birds in an area without seeing them! I’ll admit, I am not the best identifier of bird calls and have found the skill a struggle to learn, but this is one activity I will personally be undertaking this spring. I do not live in a wooded area and so don’t have the kind of wide range of species that may be heard when camping in a forest, but the digital world can help. There are videos of birdcalls and dawn choruses on Youtube, which may be used as resources from which you can practice identification. Many charities such as the woodland trust also provide resources that teach the recognition of birdsong.

Feeding

If you want to attract more birds into your garden, you can feed them and provide cover. Different kinds of seed attract different birds, as their diets vary depending on the species; some are insectivores and so will be attracted to suet blocks and mealworms, whilst others are seed feeders with potential favourites. Planting wildflowers in pots and not cutting your lawn can also attract birds to your garden. These plants provide food for insects such as flies and caterpillars, which the birds will use both to sustain themselves and their chicks. If birds have a reliable food source, they are more likely to revisit a particular location and you are more likely to see them! As I type a woodpigeon is happily pecking seed off our patio. Funnily enough, pet fur is also a favourite of many birds as they can use it to help create their nests, so collecting your pet’s winter shed in a pile outside can help.

These are just a few things we can do under lockdown in order to appreciate our feathered friends, but there are also many more I haven’t listed. From gulls flying above our city centres to song thrushes pecking in rural gardens, birds are free for everyone to see and enjoy the beauty of.

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