Empty streets, empty parks and empty seashores may reflect the enforced lethargy of the human population. We are all in lockdown, save for the few who do not seem to care a jot for their human compatriots and those defying the new rules should be made to pay for their selfishness. However, opportunity knocks for some of our wildlife for during these next weeks or months, our absence is bound to create space and opportunity for wildlife, albeit that with so many sources of food closed for humans and consequently for wildlife too, the opportunity may not be as widespread as at first thought. Many an urban fox, not to mention members of the corvid clan and various species of gulls, profit greatly from human profligacy.
The closure of all those McDonald stores for example, means that there will be fewer remnants of half-eaten meals cast aside by human consumers for the likes of urban foxes to enjoy, although unemptied household waste bins may well contain more left overs for those same animals to pilfer and enjoy. But with folk off the streets such pickings will be much scarcer. Nevertheless, there have been some quite startling pictures in the press which illustrate how quickly wildlife adapts to new situations. The snap of a herd of red deer calmly resting on a patch of spare ground next to a housing scheme in Essex perhaps tops the list of surprises.
There were also numerous pictures of the feral goats taking to the streets of Llandudno in North Wales. The streets were bereft of human occupants, just full of goats! Wildlife very quickly adapts its habits to snatch opportunity when it arises. It is a fact that you are more likely to get a sighting of a fox in the city these days than ever you are in the countryside where poor old Tod id still pursued and slaughtered with enthusiasm.
Firstly, it will remain to be seen how long the current lockdown will last and secondly, how quick various kinds of wildlife seek to exploit the empty spaces where normally human presence dominates. Will beach-nesting birds reclaim those beaches usually the province of sunbathing humans and make them into nesting places again?
The improving weather meantime has marginally slowed the traffic at our bird feeders but two things occurred. Red bottom and red faces! The red bottom belongs to a great spotted woodpecker which in recent weeks we have been playing host to. Regular readers may remember me reporting previously on the sad demise of the female woodpecker which was, along with its mate and off-spring, a regular visitor until the intervention of a sparrowhawk.
The hawk killed it and ever since, the woodpeckers that were such a colourful attraction, have been conspicuous by their absence. Now the cock woodpecker has returned to action. He flies in at speed and usually thumps on to the pole supporting our bird-table, shinning up it with alacrity and then giving his full attention to either the fat balls or the peanuts. Sometimes he remains anchored to the pole for he can certainly reach the fat balls without leaving it, his rigid tail, almost like an extra limb, jammed in against the pole to support himself.
I’m fairly convinced that this particular bird nested in our orchard last year whilst another family that also regularly visited came from a totally different direction and from farther away across the fields. That pair also had a family and I am hoping that one of the young females it produced might act as a ready substitute for the previously slaughtered female. There have been a few resounding bursts of woodpecker speak – the rattling beating of the woodpecker hammering away at a branch of a tree – but thus far I have seen no response. Perhaps they will get together in due course!
The red faces belong to two goldfinches which are still feeding enthusiastically on our supply of sunflower hearts and the pheasant which I wrote about last week which picks away at the detritus beneath our bird-table and periodically raises himself on tip toes to assert himself and crow … very loudly! His facial wattle is fairly glowing bright red at the moment.
What we also have is a plethora of house sparrows and the other day I watched a substantial group of them acting, as sparrows always seem to do, in a quarrelsome manner. Whoever called a collection of sparrows a ‘quarrel’ got it spot on! The battle seemed to be between two cock sparrows which had collected around them a collection of other sparrows, all of them joining in the assertive and argumentative chirping but sitting the physical conflict out! Later they were at it again although this time a fair collection of birds seemed to be indulging in the physical combat.
As I’ve said before, the universal decline of sparrows widely reported doesn't appear to apply here for we probably entertain the overspill from a couple of farms and they are therefore a constant presence. If it wasn’t for the fact that sparrows are so common-place they might be better regarded for looked at in isolation they are quite attractive little birds, especially the cock birds with their chestnut topknots and that little bib below the chin. We used also to entertain tree sparrows with their prominent cheek spots, which I’m afraid are in even greater decline and these days they are not to be seen hereabouts.
The chaffinch population seems to have changed as many of the males appear to have moved out or on perhaps. The males do migrate during the winter to different areas from the females and I guess with spring advancing they are now eager to return to the areas where they will urgently need to secure breeding territories. I presume the females, of which there are plenty, are local birds.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to dominate the news and many of us are consequently housebound. It is amazing to see the sun-kissed miles of beaches around our coasts so utterly deserted and in the main, the ‘stay at home’ message does seem to be holding thank goodness. Never before have we had to deal with a situation like this but we simply have to make the best of it and watch in admiration as spring continues to blossom. At least we can be entertained by our feathered friends even if the trade at bird-tables is definitely declining as more natural food comes available.
Stay vigilant and stay safe.