Nature Notes

By Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society


Sometimes our most familiar creatures set us puzzles.

Dunnocks are regular visitors to our feeders: three of them have been in a state of high excitement since mid-March – tail dipping, wing flicking and chasing.

We get a good look at them as the feeders are about two metres from our living room window, conveniently adjacent to a great tangle of evergreen honeysuckle – excellent cover. Now one of them is apparently watching us.

It started about three weeks ago when his small brown form, feathers all fluffed up, was seen bobbing along the narrow windowsill, lowering and raising his head to the glass.

This behaviour was happening several times a day. At first we thought he was hunting insects caught in the cobwebby crevices of the window-frame – but he never seemed to peck.

Then I remembered a friend telling us of a cock chaffinch which kept violently attacking the glass panel of her front door, pecking and clawing. We finally worked out that the bird had a nest nearby and was trying to evict his reflection in the glass.

I think this is probably the explanation for our dunnock though he relied on posturing rather than fighting. It’s difficult to know what to do. The hawk cut-outs set higher on the window to prevent bird-strikes don’t seem to work – he’s focussed on a tangle of honeysuckle stems and a swaggering challenger. In the end, the bird gets tired and gives up – or perhaps moves elsewhere – no solution at all.

Maintaining the breeding territory is the top priority containing, as it does, the cherished resources of shelter, cover and food.

Another friend of ours had a parallel – though only one-off – experience with the tawny owls that have established their territory in her large garden.

Every evening she would hear their calls – the hoo-hooing of the male, the answering ke-wick of the female.

Then, one morning, she was up early, preparing her breakfast with the kitchen door ajar and the radio on. “Tweet of the Day” just happened to feature the calls of tawny owls. Her residents went wild, shouting loudly outside the kitchen window long after the programme had finished.

Such a scene may at first seem mildly comical to us but, to the birds, it is a grave matter.

Not only is it stressing and distressing but it also causes the bird to waste time, strength and energy vital to the important matter of rearing a brood, of passing on the genes. I wish I could think how to avoid it.