Tag Archives: Stillits

The Birds

Over the last couple of days there’ve been large numbers of birds in the garden making me think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, although there have been fortunately no casualties as far as I know. I try to limit the amount of bird food I put out (as its production isn’t good for birds) and it’s good to see that most species are still eating natural food. 
This winter there’ve been reports from all over the county of unusual numbers of overwintering bramblings (bjørkefink) with flocks up to 300 birds recorded. I’ve had smaller flocks of 20-30 for some time, but yesterday they were everywhere in the garden and at least 140 birds were present, a new winter record for Malvik kommune! The films below show them both at the bird feeder, feeding on rowan berries (eating the seed and discarding the flesh) and also on the ground perhaps feeding on birch seed? 
Apart from that there was a sizeable flock of some 60 waxwings (sidensvans) on guelder rose / krossved (Viburnum opulus) and hawthorn (hagtorn) , 11 bullfinches (dompap), 50 house sparrows (gråspurv), 6 goldfinches (stillits) still mostly on burdock seed, 16 siskins (on birch seed), 6 greenfinches (grønnfink), 2 hawfinches (kjernebiter) seen on plum stones and rowan berries, a single robin (rødstrupe), a couple of fieldfares (gråtrost) on apples and hawthorn, a great spotted woodpecker (flaggspett) and great and blue tits both establishing territories now. In addition, a flock of 500-600 jackdaws (kaie) fly over to the roost every evening.

Bramblings with a hawfinch:

Bramblings with a hawfinch feeding on rowan seed (at the end, both birds are seen to discard the flesh). A greenfinch was also feeding on rowan.

Bramblings on the ground (feeding on birch seed?)

Large flock of bramblings at the bird feeder:

A Charm of Goldfinches

With heavy wet snow overnight weighing down all the plants in the garden together with plummeting air temperature, a flock of goldfinches (stillits) (collectively known as a Charm) were at the bird feeder this morning. I guess it’s more difficult for goldfinches to get at their preferred food, burdock seed (Arctium spp.) in these conditions. 
With bramblings (bjørkefink), greenfinch (grønnfink) and yellowhammers (gulspurv).

Natural bird food is best

I garden for the birds and other wildlife as well as myself and believe that bought bird food (sunflower seeds) is not necessarily a good thing as it’s imported and largely grown inorganically to the detrement of birds and other wildlife in the country of origin. My observations are that most bird species in our area prefer natural food (including grain in local fields) and several species never or seldom come to bird feeders. Others such as blackcap (munk) are reliant to a large extent on garden berries and fruit.  
For these reasons, I put out purchased birdfood including homegrown grain and apples only when the whether is severe. Even here in the north where we have largely had subzero temperatures day and night since November, most birds seem to be finding plentiful natural food this winter. Today, greenfinches (grønnfink) and bramblings (bjørkefink) were feeding on rowan (rogn) berries, I noticed a blue tit (blåmeis) eating nettle seed, waxwings (sidensvans) were taking guelder rose (krossved), hawthorn (hagtorn) and rowan berries (films below), a blackcap was spotted eating one of the last apples still hanging on a tree, fieldfares (gråtrost) were eating hawthorn berries and, for only the second time I noticed goldfinches feeding on chicory (sikkori) seed before switching back to burdock (borre) seed. I grow both burdock and chicory for food and a bi-product of seed saving is that the birds get a share. There are also flocks of siskins (grønnsisik), crossbills (korsnebber) and pine grosbeaks (konglebit) feeding on spruce and pine seed, often in large flocks. Every evening there are maybe a thousand crows (hooded crows / kråke and jackdaws / kaie) that fly into the roost at Vikhammer, still finding grain during our short day in the snow-covered fields. There’s also a local flock of over 90 Canada Geese (Kanadagås) that are overwintering and still able to forage in the fields. There are thousands of wildfowl also on the fjord and I today noted a flock of 250 mallard (stokkand) duck resting in the bay below the house.
Bird feeders can also have negative impact on birds as disease can spread rapidly, such as salmonellosis in greenfinch and house sparrow.
Growing plants in our gardens to supply a greater proportion of winter food for our birds is something many of us can do, but it does mean leaving seed heads to deadhead until spring and encouraging wild plants such as nettles which have multiple uses for us and wildlife. It’s also not as easy as buying a bag of bird seed from the supermarket. Bird friendly plants can be planted in good view of the house. For example, I have a yew tree right next to my kitchen window which allows me to observe berry-eating species such as blackcap, waxwing, robin, fieldfare, redwing and blackbird to within 1m! 
I think we should also consider delaying putting out commercial bird food until weather really is severe. 

1. Waxwings in slow motion – notice what happens with the rowan berry in the second sequence in the first video:

2. Only the second time I’ve seen goldfinches on chicory:

3. Waxwings on guelder rose berries with bramblings



Burdock for goldfinches

I’ve written a series of articles in 3 parts “Fuglevennlige planter i hagen” (Bird friendly plants in the garden) for the magazine of our national bird society (NOF, now Birdlife Norge) called Vår Fuglefauna (Our Bird Fauna). The first part (6 pages) has already been published (the first two pages are shown below; deliberately blurred text (below). 
My most successful plant (genus) supplying bird food in winter has been various species of burdock / borre (Arctium spp.). The oil rich seeds are very popular with goldfinches (stillits) and greenfinches (grønnfink). This autumn I cut a few plants growing in a different part of the garden and moved them in full view of my kitchen window which allowed me to film a flock of 11 goldfinches yesterday (see below). In the summer, the same plants are popular with various pollinators and for that reason also provide food for other insectivorous birds in summer.



The article will also be published for members of Norwegian Seed Savers’ guild for “Insect and Bird Friendly Plants” in a few months from now. This guild works focuses on plants that are beneficial for maintaining a garden rich in a diversity of insects and birds, whilst still providing food for us!


Is feeding birds a good thing?


Feeding birds in winter isn’t necessarily a good thing and at least one study has shown that birds lay lower numbers of eggs when fed well, perhaps due to an unnatural unbalanced oil-rich diet: https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/01/05/winter-bird-feeding-good-or-bad-for-birds
However, there are many studies showing the opposite. But is good winter survival and artificially high populations necessarily a good thing apart from entertaining us and increasing awareness of the natural world.
Then there’s the spread of disease at bird feeders as with the greenfinch (grønnfink) in the UK (populations plummeted and bird feeders no doubt contributed to the spread).  That birds are discouraged from migrating and stay in the same area year round can also lead to greater exposure to disease.
But what about the production of bird food? That happens often in large fields, mostly using conventional BigAg non-organic systems which directly impacts local bird populations by pesticides and habitat loss. Here in Norway, little of the bird feed is grown in-country. 
For these reasons, I try as far as possible to provide natural food for the birds so that they can find alternatives and I can delay putting out food as long as possible. Home grown apples are put out for the thrushes, I tidy seed heads in spring and nettle seeds loved by finches are allowed to hang all winter. Local grain can also be put out for yellowhammers (gulspurv).
In the case of goldfinches (stillits), their main food is burdock (borre) and I have introduced Arctium lappa (greater burdock / storborre) to my garden for them and greenfinches (grønnfink). However, at this time of year they tend to move over to the birdfeeder.
Here’s a couple of videos from the weekend of these beautiful birds that once were rare in this part of Norway, but are becoming more common each year. See other goldfinch posts here: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?s=goldfinch



Blackbird

Nice to wake up to a blackbird (svarttrost)in full song this morning.  The first week in April is pretty much always when they start singing here!

A great tit (kjøttmeis) can also be heard. There are at least 3 territories in the garden and surrounding gardens this year. 
Also this week, curlews (storspove) have started singing in the bay and highlight of the week was a goldfinch (stillits) singing in the garden. It moved around and sang in the 3 different places…sadly, it didn’t return yesterday. It seems that goldfinches have started colonising this area as a breeding bird with single breeding records the last 3 years.

Goldfinches and Burdock

I grow burdock (borre) in the garden both as a vegetable but also for the birds. Goldfinches / stillits (still relatively rare in my area) eat  almost exclusively the seeds of this plant in winter. This year I cut down a few of the plants and placed them in a large pot of earth right in front of the kitchen window…and 4 birds discovered it today. How  they avoid the burrs attaching to them is a mystery….

Some of the seed burrs had fallen to the ground in a storm a week ago. This video starts with siskins feeding next to the window on birch seeds: