The RSPB has just released the results of the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, where members of the public count the birds they can see for an hour at the end of January.
In Scotland the top 10 birds (in order from most numerous to least) were: house sparrow, starling, chaffinch, blue tit, blackbird, woodpigeon, goldfinch, great tit, robin, coal tit.
In my own garden I see all of these birds regularly, with the exception of the chaffinch which, although I have seen it in the area, is a far less frequent visitor to my particular patch compared with most of the other birds on the list.
Number seven in the list, the goldfinch, has been doing especially well in recent years. They are exquisitely marked and a very welcome garden visitor. For the past few days I have been watching a pair of them in the garden gathering beakfuls of the fluffy seed heads from last year’s Japanese anemones, before flying off to embellish their nest somewhere. Goldfinches have actually increased their numbers by about 70 per cent since the early 2000s. They are sociable birds and often move about in loose flocks. In this they are similar to the sociable house sparrow. In my garden you rarely see a lone sparrow at the feeder or bird bath, they like to be in a group – safety in numbers. They congregate in the ivy hedge at the back of the garden where their loud chirruping sounds like a lively, good-natured argument.
One bird, which is not in the top 10, surprisingly, is the feral pigeon. Several pigeons hang around my garden because they know I scatter bird seed out on the patio. In fact, I have only to open the back door for the sound of wings to announce the arrival of several pigeons who then watch me from the rooftop to see if it’s feeding time. Seen almost everywhere, pigeons are rather disliked because of their ubiquity, but it seems a shame to treat them with disdain just because they are common.
The sun can transform their feathers into a sheen of iridescent pink and green and many people derive enjoyment from feeding them, as a half hour spent in George Square will attest.