Sunday, January 3, 2010


We are back in frigid Chicago now but I wanted to do one more post from Cornwall. The last day we were there a wild sou' wester' blew in and the wood burning stove in the kitchen just seemed far more appealing than anything outside! Luckily for me, my Moms bird feeders are located right outside the window so I settled down to see who would visit.
The Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs was by far the most numerous. This is the male

and this is the female

They tend to be more gregarious in the winter and they were most definitely 'large and in charge' at the feeders, only tolerating other species for brief moments before swooping in to take over the perches.
The Greenfinch Carduelis chloris is a much chunkier finch, easy to distinguish because of the beautiful yellow/green wing panel and rump.

I have to apologise for the photo quality here, I was shooting through the kitchen window which due to the storm was liberally caked with salt from the sea.
When he could run the gauntlet of Chaffinches the diminutive Blue Tit Parus caeruleus loved to swing from the suet feeder. Here he is getting a wash and brush-up at the bird bath.

My parents have been particularly successful in encouraging these appealing little birds into their garden and have even had them breeding in tiny nesting boxes lined with shed hair from the dog!
We have a nursery rhyme about this next bird -

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

The rye was purchased for sixpence to attract birds. Blackbirds, and other song birds, were actually eaten as a delicacy! However a court jester may well have suggested to the court cook to bake a pie crust and place this over some blackbirds to surprise and amuse the King!

Thankfully this species is no longer on the menu! The Blackbird Turdus merula is one of the best-known British birds. The male is unmistakable, with entirely glossy, velvet black plumage and contrasting orange bill and eye-ring.
A far less common winter visitor is the Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla seen here on the right of the picture, about to be chased away by the Chaffinch!

And before you think I am going crazy - the male of the species does have a black cap! The females and the immatures have the rufous brown cap! They seem to find Cornwall suitable for their needs during the winter and are a charming addition to the list of garden visitors.
One of my personal favorites is the Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

This delightful character is one of the more reticent visitors to the garden, always the first to take flight at the slightest noise or disturbance.

A few years ago we never saw these in the garden but now they appear regularly which is very positive in this age of rapidly declining song bird populations. I always think of the Isles of Scilly when I see a thrush, they are incredibly tame there. When we camped there a few years ago, one particular individual would fly down every morning and perch on the edge of our porridge pan to clean up the scraps after we had finished! Barely two feet in front of where we were sitting.
The final character in my parade of garden visitors is the star of English Christmas cards through the ages.

The Robin Erithacus rubecula is small in stature but extremely large in attitude (must be why I like them!! ;) ) My husband (an American) makes very derisory comments about the size of the English Robin in comparison to the American one. I, of course, respond by saying 'well your Robin isn't a Robin at all, it's a thrush!' Of course I failed to mention to him that it is only in recent years that the English Robin has been reclassified from a thrush to an old world flycatcher! But hey........ he shouldn't be rude about our beautiful Robin!

Of course if I really wanted to stop his comments I could explain that the America 'Robin' was named after the English one because of the similar red breast! But I'll save that for next time :)

Photo Credits - CJT


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I always learn so much over here (and in the comments you leave for me, too....thank you!). One of my favorite cold weather past times is armchair bird watching. I have a bird ID book and I get a kick out of marking off, on my chart, which birds have stopped into visit my feeders.

Right now the most numerous are our Pinon Jays. Beautiful indeed. But they come in huge flocks and chase off all the other birds. They are gluttons! They love the suet feeders, though.

Thanks for sharing the song, too. It brought back such find memories. I had a very special "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" comfort blanket when I was a child. It had pictures of the story printed all over the blanket. I adored it and slept with it and carried it everywhere. I'm sure I destroyed it, but I wish my stepmother hadn't thrown it away. I wish I had even just a little shred of that blanket, to possibly frame for memory's sake. sigh.

I'll have to post some of my backyard bird photos soon.

Thanks for sharing.


Rambling Woods said...

And the house sparrow is a wren...LOL.. Those birds don't look as cold as the ones I am sure you have in Chicago....Happy New Year Celeste....Michelle

Kathiesbirds said...

Celeste, what a wonderful and informative post! I happen to love your English robin! Of course, it always makes me think of "The Secret Garden" by Francis Hodgeson Burnett. I own the book and I love the story and illustrations. Sitting in the kitchen by the fire watching birds is just about my idea of heaven. Sounds blissful to me! You weren't perhaps drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea, were you? That would make it perfect!

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