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Birds In Spring

Information and Activities

Jock and The Dawn Chorus

The RSPB are experts on the dawn chorus and you can read more on their web site Voices of Spring

From March to July Jock doesn’t need an alarm clock, with songbirds singing their little hearts out from about an hour before sunrise.

It is the breeding season, and the longer hours of daylight sets the males into breeding mode. Lying in his comfy bed Jock enjoys his morning wake up call, listening up for the order of play! He is wakened by the skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds, then the wrens and warblers join in-they eat insects which don’t appear till slightly later. There’s not enough light for foraging, making insects and seeds harder to find, so this is the perfect time to sing out for a mate. The down side of all this loud singing is it tells predators where they are, so again it’s best done in the dim first light.

There’s less background noise, and the air at dawn is often stiller, so song can carry up to 20 times as well as at noon.

As the light becomes stronger it makes food easier to find, so the hungry birds move off to find breakfast, and the chorus tails off.

Singing uses up lots of energy, so the fittest, best fed males produce the strongest songs to impress the females. They choose the best singers because these strong males will have the best territories, be good at raising chicks, and pass on good genes to their young.

Why not get up with the lark to enjoy the dawn chorus! The best time to listen is half an hour before and after sunrise, but the RSPB advises getting into position a good hour before sunrise to enjoy the performers as they each take their turn on stage. Choose a fine clear morning with little wind.

The dusk chorus isn’t as dramatic, but all the same there is a noticeable increase in song during spring evenings, and Jock thinks some the tree sparrows and blue tits even prefer to sing then.

Here’s the RSPB bird song playlist to help you identify birds from their song: RSPB: What Bird is That?

Jock and The Dawn Chorus (Bailies of Bennachie Video)
Here’s a lovely recording of the dawn chorus, just listen to a little of this long recording

Jock and The Cuckoo

The cuckoo is dove sized, with blue grey upper parts, head and chest, with dark barred white underparts and pointed wings which droop when perched. At first glance, Jock can sometimes mistake them for kestrels or sparrow hawks, with their long sleek bodies, long tails and pointed wings. Males and females look alike, and young cuckoos are brown. Cuckoos eat insects, with their top menu choice hairy caterpillars.

Jock’s favourite spring rituals at the end of April is listening out for the first male cuckoo call on Bennachie and he often goes down to check the gowk stane to see if any males are perched and calling out with their distinctive cuckoo cuckoo call. Sadly he knows there are not as many cuckoos these days.

Jock, The Cuckoo and the Gowk Stane (Bailies of Bennachie Video)

Cuckoos don't raise their own young, they're an example of ‘brood parasites’. They lay their eggs in the other birds’ nests, such as dunnock, reed warblers or meadow pipits. The female cuckoo waits patiently for the other parents to leave their nest and she then lays her egg into their nest which matches the host eggs. She can do all this within 10 seconds!! As she leaves she often makes a sort of chuckle sound, which makes the host birds suspect a sparrowhawk is around, cunningly taking their attention away from what has just happened. She will do this around 25 times in a season!

After around 11 days the egg hatches and the cuckoo nestling will push the other eggs or chicks out of the nest, so the adoptive parents only have it to feed. This hungry youngster makes begging calls to encourage the adoptive parents into feeding it, while it grows to 2 or 3 times their size!

At around 20 days it leaves the nest, but the host parents keep feeding it for another few weeks.

Cuckoos are only around for a short time and by the end of June the adults will have said goodbye to Jock and set off for their return journey to Africa, where they spend the winter. The fledglings will follow them a few weeks later.

The British Trust for Ornithology has a fascinating cuckoo project, finding that cuckoos they have tagged in the UK spend winter in central Africa, mainly in and around the Congo rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo and Gabon and Angola. In spring as they head north they stop over at sites in West Africa.

Watch the flight of some of their tagged cuckoos as they make their incredible journey: Cuckoo Tracking Project

Jock is very sad that their numbers are dropping; in fact by about half in the past 20 years! They have told him that their long flight south can be dangerous as they are hunted, and there are now fewer forested areas, so they are losing their habitat.

For cuckoo information and to listen to their call:

Note: With grateful thanks to the Doric Board for supporting the 2021 Jock o' Bennachie Doric Tales. 
Here’s a lovely video where you can see cuckoos and listen to them calling
Credit Graeme Ruthven
Cuckoo (Credit Ally Barron)
Cuckoo (Credit Ally Barron)

The Meadow Pipit

The Bird Spot web site has brilliant information about Meadow Pipits.

In springtime, Jock is always pleased to see the return of the meadow pipits to the higher ground after spending winter down on the farmland near Bennachie.

One of his springtime joys is to see the male meadow pipit singing out whilst rising about 30 meters from the ground, then with his wings out ‘parachuting’ down again.

Keep your eyes out for these lovely little guys-they are good at blending in with the vegetation. They have olive brown upper parts, with broad black streaks on the head, mantle and back. The upper wing is darker with pale edges, and the underwing is whitish. The tail is dark brown with a green fringe. They have paler undersides.

They eat insects, flies, moths, beetles and spiders, and in winter will take seeds. During nesting season Jock has to be careful with his big feet as meadow pipits build their nests on the ground, hidden in vegetation, so he stays on the paths.

They lay 2-7 glossy white eggs with brown spots. After 13 days the chicks will hatch and are fed by both parents. They leave the nest after 12 days but will be fed by the parents for another 14 days. Meadow pipits are cuckoo’s favourite ‘victims’.

The Meadow Pipit
Take a look at these meadow pipits

What is a Nest?

Most birds lay eggs from early spring until mid-summer, however the exact timing varies depending upon the bird species.

Some birds will even lay multiple sets of eggs, which is why you might continue seeing birds nesting well into summer.

So Jock has identified the six stages during the nesting season that starts in Spring.

Stage 1: Courtship and Pairing

Birds begin to prepare for nesting. The snow has gone and as the temperature gets warmer there is more food available and daylight length is getting longer. Birds begin to break out of their winter flocks and become anchored to a much smaller core territory. This will eventually be their nesting territory. Males will then start singing and chasing other males out of their territory. Songs are being made to attract females, and also protect territory from rivals. Soon the females will begin choosing which partners they want to pair up with.

Look for birds singing, pairing up and protecting territory from other members of their own species. You might also see little gestures of romance like males feeding females.

Stage 2: Nest Building

Soon after the birds have paired up, they will then choose a spot to begin building their nest. Sometimes both the male & female build the nest together and other times it’s just the female. Watch carefully from a good distance birds ( could be both male and female bird or just one of them) carrying little twigs or gathering mud, or simply flying into certain sheltered spots repeatedly. Watch carefully over the coming days and weeks because the birds are now getting very close to mating & egg laying time.

Stage 3: Mating

After the nest is built, this is when mating occurs.
The females need their eggs to be fertilized by their partner before they can be laid in the nest. It’s also a very energy intensive process to lay eggs, so the actual mating and egg laying typically occurs over a period of several days.

Stage 4: Incubation (keeping eggs warm until time of hatching)

Incubation by the parents ( both parents can take it in turns or just the female takes on this role) now sit on the nest keeping the eggs at the right temperature. It is important that we do not disturb birds at this stage

They have to continue feeding themselves and staying nourished, while evading predators. If you notice nest robbers in the area at this time, sometimes the parents will get scared off the nest, or fly out to alarm at some invading crows. If you watch carefully they will return to the nest as soon as possible.

If the eggs get too cold, or a nest robber identifies the nest location, the parents can lose their family and might need to start over again.

Check this web site to learn more about how long do birds sit on eggs: RSPB Incubation

Stage 5: Hatching & Nestlings

With enough patience and a bit of luck, the eggs will hatch and move into their nestling phase. See this video to watch a how an egg hatches:

The parent birds start flying back and forth to the nest with food for their young. The babies (brood) might beg with a quiet cheep! cheep! cheep! sound whenever the parents approach the nest. This nestling phase will typically last a few weeks, or sometimes longer in large bird species but do not disturb the chicks.

Stage 6: Juvenile Fledglings

After a few weeks, the nestlings are ready to test out their wings. For example:

Young Robins can leave the nest as early as 14 days after hatching. https://gardenbirds.net/robin/

Great spotted woodpeckers chicks are helpless when they hatch; they are naked and their eyes are closed for the first 12 to 13 days. Both parents feed and brood the chicks. The chicks leave the nest at 24 to 31 days old. Chicks leave the nest at 24 to 31 days old.

At this stage they look pretty much like full sized birds, but their flying abilities are not very good, and they’re still completely dependent on their parents. You’ll notice juveniles fluttering their wings and following their exhausted parents around begging for food.

Read how to help a juvenile on the ground at the RSPB web site in their Baby Birds section.

Jock o' Bennachie is fascinated with birds nests and wants to learn more about them... it is amazing to think that some tiny birds can build well weaved nests, just with their beak and legs, and he cannot even make his own bed!

See this lovely video of the Great Crested Grebe courtship dance
Rooks Nesting
Long-Tailed Tit nest
Great Spotted Woodpecker Chick
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)
Woodpecker (Credit Sue Johnson)

Examples Of Nests

What is a bird nest? - This is a shelter made by birds for its eggs and young. The nest protects the eggs and once the eggs hatch the young are protected in the nest as their parents feed them. Each bird nest type is designed for a particular site and the site in which it is located provides the materials… it is amazing to think that a bird builds these well weaved nest with their beak and legs… why don’t you try building a nest!?

There are lots of different sorts of nest.

Blackbird Nest makes a cup – shaped nest constructed from a mixture of mud, straw and dry grasses, built into a number of interlocking twigs and branches. The female just builds the nest. The nest contains 2 to 6 eggs and the bird will nest two or three times a year and the first clutch is in April. For more information: Blackbird Breeding (RSPB).

Rook Nest - Rook nest socially wedged in the forks of high trees. The nests are made of large interlocking sticks then lined with soft grass and sometimes leaves. You will find the most senior birds in the centre of a rookery with young birds (juveniles ) on the outer edge for or more information look at: Woodland Trust: Rook

Long Tail Tits - Hiding in prickly bushes this is a domed nest is a compact mixture of moss mixed with gossamer (a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by spiders) and lined with feathers. Outside is embedded with hundreds of flakes of lichen. It can contain hair, wool. Fine bark and other loose material. In takes two birds in a mating pair two weeks to make…this is even more remarkable when you think that a long tail tit can make a nest in its first year having been never been shown how to do!

House Sparrows - This bird uses holes in buildings, ledges, crevices and dense foliage as the nest is a cluster of gently bent straws and a bed of feathers not woven but loosely entwined. Woven nests take a vast amount of time and energy so hose sparrow conserves energy for feeding and allow time for many clutches of eggs

Some examples of nest sites

Ospreys - Often on the top of a very tall tree ospreys are summer visitors and are site faithful which means the return every year. There are a few ospreys in the Bennachie area that will on fish found in the river Don. You can watch the ospreys on the Woodland Trust osprey cam: Osprey Cam

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Make their nest inside the tree truck hollowing out the nest chamber by chipping away the wood with their beaks. This process can take around three weeks with the inner cavity chipped smooth. Often you hear drumming in spring from woodpeckers it is not them working on their holes it is in fact equivalent of song made as a mating call and to communicate each woodpeckers territory. A woodpecker will not reuse its hole the following year.

Examples of nest materials

Wood Pigeon Nest - Their main breeding time is April to October but they can nest all the year round. Woodpigeons use same length twigs to form a flimsy raft like platform. Often these platforms are thin and light can be seen through the nest allowing their pale eggs to disappear . Twigs are available all year round so this simple structure enables more breeding attempts.

Chaffinch - Tucked into the fork of a tree a tiny cup nest made from moss, spiders web and feathers. The Chaffinch is clever and worked out that the moss and spiders web work like Velcro – the moss has tiny hooks and the spiders web is full of loops. The elastic nature of the materials means that the cup shape is flexible as the young grow. The female makes the nest and lays up to 6 eggs that are pale brown/blue/red or grey/ the eggs are incubated for 2 to 13 days and young stay in the nest for 14 days. Check out this link to learn more: Garden Birds - Chaffinch

Swallow - This is a summer visitor to Bennachie flying back and forth from Africa and builds in nest from mud and is usually inside the building.

House Martins – also are summer visitors and build their mud nests affixing to the outside usually under overhangs. Each time the bird adds a layer of mud it vibrates it which brings water to the surface creating a bond with the next layer!

Just for Fun, Build your Own Nest!

Now try nest building yourself read the instructions for Nest Building and see how you get on.

Share your photos with Jock! We will pop the best photos on the web site.

We will pop the best photos on the web site.

Send Your Photos

Nest Building (Download)

Did you know young pigeons (Squabs) are fed by both parents on a liquid known as crop or pigeon milk.

Watch Osprey Webcams Online (Scottish Wildlife Trust)
Loch Arkaig Osprey Webcam (Woodland Trust)
Owl Tower Webcam
Owl Tower Webcam (Aspire To Achieve)
Long-Tailed Tit nest
Great Spotted Woodpecker Chick

Also See

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Learn more about why spring is a special time for animals and their young.
Amphibians In Spring

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Spring is an important time for amphibians, such as Frogs, Toads and the Palmate Newt.
Insects In Spring

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In Spring there is always a "buzz" in the air. Find out all those insects are busy doing!
Spring Activities

Spring Activities

Join in the Spring fun for all the family with our range of indoor and outdoor activities.
Competition

Competition

Enter our competition and see how you get on.

Also see our Spring Programme 2021, Winter Programme 2020, Autumn Programme 2020 and Summer Programme 2020 information, and don't forget to enter our Competition.

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