Wednesday 24 January 2018

Big Garden Birdwatch - a Kingsbury garden perspective

Guest post from a Kingsbury resident
If, like me, you are lucky enough to have a garden, one of the pleasures of life is to watch the birds that come to enjoy it with you. Next weekend, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January, sees the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch LINK . On a good year, I can see 8 to 10 different species of birds in my garden in the course of an hour, but if the weather is bad, perhaps only 3 or 4. 

There are some birds which we only see a few times each year. Our garden backs on to the Jubilee Line, and most of our occasional visitors fly in from the railway bank. I suspect that many of them live in Fryent Country Park, which shows the great value of this local nature reserve, and of the wildlife corridors which link it to gardens in the residential areas of Brent.

Yesterday our garden was visited by a Green Woodpecker, which stayed for over 15 minutes and allowed me to take some photographs. I have put three of these together, to illustrate its interesting feeding behaviour:

Although it nests in holes in trees, the Green Woodpecker uses its long beak mainly for eating its favourite food, ants. It can sense where there is an ants’ nest under the ground, then pecks to make a funnel-shaped hole directly above the nest. It seems to know that the ants prefer a site beside our garden path, so that they can easily excavate safe chambers for their eggs out of the sand that the paving blocks rest on. 

Once it has made the hole, the woodpecker puts its beak down, and flicks out its tongue to gather ants. Then it throws back its head, while pulling in its tongue, so that the ants go straight into its throat. It does this a few times, then hops a short distance before making another hole, or looking for another nest to harvest.

It will often be two or three months before we see a Green Woodpecker in our garden again, so the chances are that it will not appear in our Big Garden Birdwatch results. The bird seems to know that it must give the ants’ nests it has raided time to recover before visiting them again, a sensible and sustainable approach to managing its food resources. As well as being a beautiful bird, this woodpecker certainly has “Green” credentials!

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