05.02.15 "Strange and wondrous birds in the garden"

, 09 February 2015

Emma emailed in to say:

"I have just seen a small flock of Long-tailed Tits in the garden and earlier a Blackcap. We have never been honoured with such visitors. Is it the cold weather bringing them in?"

The recent cold snap has certainly driven more birds into our gardens from the surrounding countryside as the freezing conditions make their natural food harder to access. Many people, especially those who live near woodlands will be familiar with a roving band of long-tailed tits on their feeder but a blackcap in the winter is not so common.

Blackcap (female) / Neil Fletcher
Blackcap (female) / Neil Fletcher

Blackcaps, like the majority of our other British warblers, escape the British winter by heading south to Africa in the autumn. However, a few decades ago some blackcaps from Germany migrated the wrong way and ended up in England in the winter. In all migratory bird populations there are always a small percentage that head the wrong direction and sadly these individuals would typically perish in the cold as their food supplies vanished. Yet these German blackcaps found Britain was full of food. People were hanging fat balls in their gardens and supermarkets were planting berry-filled trees. Instead of starving they returned fat and healthy to Germany (and probably beat the other other blackcaps who had travelled all the way to Africa). This started an annual alternative winter migration from Germany to England which can still be witnessed in gardens like Emmas.

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