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NATURE WATCH; RURAL LIVING.

A number of factors combine to make the three months from mid-February to mid-May the best time of the year for seeing and watching birds in Britain.

First of all the weather is getting better and the days are getting longer. This makes life easier for both us and the birds.

For them the daily quest for food becomes less fraught, as they need slightly less stored energy to survive the shorter and warmer nights, and because more food is becoming available.

Secondly, our deciduous trees and shrubs are still bare of leaves for most of this time. Once they come into full leaf, from May onwards, it becomes much more difficult to see what is going on.

In woodlands especially the light levels drop again, and in any case, once they have young in their nests birds tend to stop advertising their presence.

Thirdly, the birds' behaviour changes markedly. Those species, such as various finches, linnets, tits and magpies, which spend the winter in flocks, pair off and the flocks break up.

Even gregarious birds like ducks and geese, or colonial nesters, such as rooks and herons, will be pairing up and fetching and carrying nesting material.

Although not readily apparent because of the number of non-breeding birds, breeding Canada geese will be separating themselves from the main flocks. In a few weeks' time a walk along some of the midlands canals will reveal a goose nest about once every 100 metres or so.

Fourthly, the males of many species make themselves very conspicuous. They do this both by wearing their brightest plumage of the year, and by advertising their presence by singing.

This show-business approach to life is, of course, not primarily for our benefit. It is to let potential mates know that the male is around, and to let them and rivals know that he has a territory, that territory being the foraging area needed for food for the chicks.

Although not for our benefit there may be a slight evolutionary advantage for birds in being attractive to humans, because we now spend millions of pounds a year providing for them with food, nest boxes and nature reserves.

Finally spring is migration time. Millions of birds, large and small, come and go. Those that move here for the winter move out again.

For some species, such as starlings, we don't really notice these movements because there are some birds here all year round. Others, such as fieldfares and redwings, spend winter here but all disappear to breed elsewhere.

Yet others, like swallows, martins and most species of warblers, return from warmer countries just for the summer.

Almost any passing species may drop in to feed and rest on these long journeys.

So, enjoy the annual spectacle of avian adventures, coming to a garden, woodland or park near to you very shortly.

Peter Shirley, former regional director of West Midlands Wildlife Trusts. petershirley@blueyonder.co.uk

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 16, 2008
Words:492
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