I hope you enjoyed reading ‘Urban Birder’ David Lindo’s latest piece for Birds magazine on his encounters with bullfinches. If you haven’t read it yet, do turn to page 77 of the Spring 2012 issue.
We asked you to let us know about your own experiences with these chunky finches in the magazine, so I thought I’d share one of my experiences with bullfinches to help get things rolling.
It’s always nerve racking meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, but even more so when you make that first trip to go and stay at their house. Amidst desperately trying to avoid all those social faux pas and remembering my manners on that first weekend in Yorkshire, my eyes were drawn to the bird feeders hanging outside.
Remembering that it is probably quite rude to stare out of the window when I should be making that all important first impression, all hope went out the window (literally) when a rose-breasted vision of beauty dressed in a silver jacket dropped down onto one of the seed feeders: a bullfinch!
From that first encounter forth, it has always been a pleasure to go and visit my girlfriend’s parents, Sue and Graham, because up to two pairs of bullfinches are a near constant presence in both front and back gardens. I should also state that it is also a pleasure to visit Sue and Graham because they are sparkling company and excellent hosts. The finches are merely a bonus! Waking up to the finches’ soft ‘peeuh’ calls outside the window is a very pleasant experience indeed. They are often the first birds I see each day.
As David says in his feature, bullfinches are sadly so much rarer now, making sightings like these even more precious.
Does your home for nature, include a place for bullfinches?
What do your bullfinches do?I’m not lucky enough to have bullfinches coming to my feeders in my garden, but it would be great to hear from anyone who does. Please let us know by posting a comment below (you’ll need to register on the RSPB Community first), or emailing Nature's Home magazine at email@example.com and I'll add your stories to the blog.
Guest blogger: Sybil Kapoor
Chocalate chip cookies
Every child will love these classic vanilla-flavoured cookies. I’ve used white chocolate here, but you could replace it with dark or milk chocolate. They will keep for a week in an airtight tin – if you can resist them that long. They’re also scrummy eaten with breakfast.
Makes about 25 cookies
100g/3½ oz white chocolate
115g/4oz butter, softened
85g/3oz caster sugar
55g/2oz light muscovado sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
140g/5oz self-raising flour, sifted
1 Preheat the oven to fan 190°C/gas 6. Lightly grease 3 baking sheets and arrange your oven shelves so that you can easily slip in the 3 baking sheets at the same time.
2 Cut the white chocolate into 5mm/¼in chunks. In a food processor beat the butter, caster sugar and muscovado sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and gradually beat in the egg. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour, followed by the chocolate.
3 Spoon dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to the prepared baking trays, leaving plenty of space between each cookie - they spread out as they cook.
4 Bake for 8-10 minutes or until pale gold. You don’t want them to over-cook and darken otherwise they will be too hard when you eat them. Leave to cool slightly on their baking trays for about 5-10 minutes. Then use a palette knife to transfer them to a wire cooling rack. Eat warm or cold. They should be slightly chewy.
Recipe from National Trust Simply Baking
Photography by Karen Thomas
Swifts really are the birds of the moment. They’re now returned to many areas of the UK after a winter spent in Africa to scream and scythe their way through the sky. Many more are winging their way to us, so keep scanning the skies for that unmistakable sickle-winged shape, and listening out for those calls. If “your” birds aren’t back yet, don’t worry: swifts will continue to arrive throughout May.
There's no mistaking a swift - just remember all black plumage and "boomerang" shape (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
Our Summer 2017 Nature’s Home magazine has the most beautiful close up swift on the cover (it’s my favourite cover ever) and a great feature all about the work going on in towns and cities around the UK to help them - building the swift cities! Not only that, we need you to tell us about your swifts this summer in the RSPB swift survey. This really is the month of the swift.
What a beauty - check out those big eyes and a bill that was made for insect-eating (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
I’ve picked out 10 of my favourite swift facts from the RSPB’s archives to keep the swift celebration going and to hopefully tickle your fancy with a few things about these amazing birds you may not know...
1.Swifts have an average life span of about five and a half years. One bird in Oxford was found dying in 1964, 16 years after it was ringed as an adult, so was likely to be at least 18 years old. This bird probably flew about four million miles in its lifetime, the same as flying to the moon and back eight times.2.Swifts have four toes, four arranged in twos, with each pair pointing sideways rather than forwards, a bit like a chameleon or a koala.3.They use saliva for building their nests in roof spaces and cavities.
4.The swift probably eats more species of small insect and spiders than any other UK bird – well over 300.
5.Swifts drink by gliding over smooth water and taking sips and bathe by flying slowly through falling rain.
Swifts very rarely land, but they have to for nesting of course (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
6. Their eyes have moveable bristles in front – sunglasses for reducing glare when they are on the wing.
7. Swifts can sleep on the wing – a French Airman in the 1914-18 war glided down with engines off behind enemy lines. At 10,000 feet he found himself amongst apparently motionless birds. One of them was caught in the machine and on the following day was found to be an adult male swift.
8.When they are about month old, baby swifts do ‘press ups’ in the nest to strengthen their wings. They lift themselves up by pushing down on their wings. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear off the ground like this for several seconds.9.Each ball of food that the parents bring to their babies weighs just over a gram and contains 300-1,000 individual insects and spiders.
10.There are seven species of swift on the UK list. Our familiar swift is the only one that that breeds here, but there are six other rare visitors. The Alpine swift is a big swift with white underparts and throat, but the pallid swift is extremely similar to “our” swift. The little swift lives up to its name and has a white rump like a house martin. Then there are the really rare ones: Pacific swift, chimney swift from North America and the awesome, and incredibly fast, needle-tailed swift.Tell us about your swifts!
Once your local swifts have returned, We'd like you to let us know where you have seen them and where they're nesting. Watch out for screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-height (that means they're breeding nearby), or where you've seen swifts entering a roof or hole in a building, which means they are probably nesting.
We need sightings from anywhere across the UK and you can enter as many records as you like at different times. You can even submit sightings you remember from the past - the more records, the better!
Put some time in your diary this summer for searching for swifts - and tell us about them! (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
If you have sent in records before, it’s important to know if birds are still returning to the same areas. Please tell us what’s happening there this year. Your information will increase the RSPB's knowledge of swifts, so that more nest sites can be provided and protected for these beautiful birds during their short, but very important time spent in the UK.
Have a great swift summer!