Watching for Birds this Weekend? – Birds at our Natural Burial Grounds
We love watching the birds especially when we can take a moment to sit outside with a cuppa or hot chocolate and listen to the birdsong. It can be very therapeutic and can really help to take away the stress of the day. It was admiring the birds playing in the hedgerow that inspired this blog. We wanted to find out what they were and thought a helpful guide may be useful for those visiting our natural burial grounds.
Watching the birds this weekend?
We then realised that it was around this time that the RSPB have their Big Garden Birdwatch. In fact, it’s coming up this weekend and it is a great chance to take part in a national birdwatch. It’s also a fantastic way to get the kids out and about in nature and to teach them the importance of caring for our wildlife.
If you haven’t got a garden, you can do this at a park or at a green space. We love to watch the birds at our natural burial grounds because the open countryside and native habitats make it a perfect place for watching wildlife. We often see buzzards flying overhead and cheeky little robins waiting in the wings. They are very clever and always on the lookout for an easy meal.
We hope that this guide is useful and helps you to identify some of the birds you may see at our natural burial grounds.
There is an unreasonable joy to be had from the observation of small birds going about their bright, oblivious business― Grant Hutchison
The Dunnock is roughly the same size as a Robin. They love areas with vegetation like hedgerows and shrubs. Especially those close to the ground where they can find a juicy insect or worm. In the winter you can find them looking for seeds when insects are scarce. You may see them in pairs but Dunnocks are often alone. They have a very interesting mating strategy as the female will mate with several males. This means the chicks in her brood may have different fathers which will all help to rear the chicks. You can see Dunnocks across the UK all year round.
The golden pheasant is one of the birds we see at Delliefure Natural Burial Ground. As you can see from the photo their appearance is striking. As with most birds, the male is more colourful, however, females also have beautiful yellow plumage. Golden Pheasants are shy birds and they like dark dense woodland. Keep an eye out for them when walking the woodland trail at Delliefure. They like to roost in the trees at night which helps to keep them safe from predators like the wily fox. They have a varied diet which includes insects, leaves, buds and spiders. You can see golden pheasants all year round.
If you see a flash of yellow while walking near the trees it may be a Siskin. Often you see these birds fluttering about the treetops. The Siskin is a little lively yellow finch that loves to eat the seeds in conifers, alders and birch. In the summer they will hunt for insects until it is seed season again. You can see Siskins throughout the year in the UK but find greater numbers in Scotland and Wales, with an increase in number in England during the wintertime. There has been a decline in this species which is probably to do with the loss of the woodland they rely on. With greater woodland restoration hopefully, their numbers will increase. We hope that this is one of the species the new Alder grove at Pembrokeshire may support in future years.
One of the birds you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of at Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow is the Heron. Herons have a very striking appearance with their long legs. They love being near water so the pond at Aylesbury is the perfect place to attract these birds. They enjoy eating fish but when this is not available will also eat small birds and small mammals. You may see them in the meadow looking for little rodents and amphibians after the meadow has been cut. You can see Grey Herons throughout the year.
The Skylark is a small brown bird with a little crest that raises when worried or excited. Skylarks like the open countryside, especially farmland and grassland. Unfortunately, their numbers have declined due to loss of habitat. Understanding how we can sympathetically manage farmland to protect Skylarks could help restore numbers. While projects, like the restoration of Pasture at Dorset Downs, may also help to restore lost habitat. As Skylarks nest on the ground, they can be vulnerable to animals like dogs too. It is therefore important to keep dogs on leads in areas where they are present and may be nesting. They are often hard to see when on the ground. However, they are very easy to identify by their distinctive ‘song flight’. This is a territorial aerial display where they fly vertically in the air. You can see Skylarks all year round.
The most common bird of prey in the UK is the buzzard. These can be seen flying over all our natural burial grounds, however, 50 years ago this was not the case. There were significantly fewer buzzards due many to years of persecution and the use of pesticides. Their numbers have quadrupled since the 1970s due to a reduction in pesticides and protection of the species.
Buzzards can survive across many different habitats and are not fussy about what they eat. A meal can range from invertebrates, like worms, to small rodents and small mammals. We have experienced first-hand how opportunistic buzzards are. When mowing the meadow at Pembrokeshire they often stay nearby. When the chance arises they will swoop down to collect their dinner in the freshly cut grass. There is a Buzzards nest on the northern edge of Delliefure and last year we saw our first pair calling to each other over Pembrokeshire. We often see buzzards at Hundy Mundy and have a sneaky suspicion there is a nest on the edge of Usk Castle Chase. You can see Buzzards throughout the year.
The chaffinch can be found across the UK and across our natural burial grounds. It is one of the most abundant birds in Britain. Their beautiful plumage allows them to camouflage themselves when foraging on the ground. However, you will usually hear them before you see them because of their beautiful song. They love to eat invertebrates like caterpillars but will also eat seeds later in the year. You can find them in fields, parks, gardens and woodland foraging for food. You may also see them building their nests in hedges and trees. They make these from some of the most delicate materials. These can include moss, grass and even spiders web to line the nest. They are one of our woodland birds so can often be found in places like Hundy Mundy Woodland Burial Ground.
This photo of a beautiful Sparrow hawk was taken at Dorset Downs Natural Burial Ground by one of Dorset’s local photographers Mac Mcnamee.
There have previously been concerns about the impact of Sparrowhawks but the simple fact is Sparrowhawks can only thrive if their food source thrives. This means when small bird numbers fall so does the sparrow hawks’ ability to nest in certain areas. This is nature’s way of keeping a balance and as the RSPB remind us sparrow hawks and birds have lived in harmony for thousands of years. As a really interesting article by the RSPB mentions, “previous studies found that songbirds were no more common when sparrowhawks were absent than when they were present”. You can read the full article here, it is really interesting.
Unfortunately, the balance between songbird and sparrowhawk has been disrupted because of our impact. Our use of organochlorine pesticides in the 1960s and 70’s affected the sparrow hawks’ ability to breed and they were nearly lost in areas across the UK.
This highlights that our concern should not be with nature keeping a balance, but how we keep our balance with nature. Loss of habitat, use of chemicals and persecution needs to be prevented. From here nature will find its own balance. Luckily Sparrow Hawk numbers have increased since we have banned the use of harmful chemicals. This goes to show we are learning from past mistakes and can make a positive change to support species like the Sparrow Hawk.
Mallards are about throughout the year and breed across the UK in the summer and winter. They love wetlands which is why we see them on the pond at Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow. They enjoy eating lots of different things. This includes seeds, acorns, berries, plants, insects and shellfish. In the past, it may have been the norm to feed them bread this is not actually good for them. When feeding ducks you should use food that fits in with their natural diet so they are getting the nutrition they need. At Aylesbury, the native habitats provide the nutrition they need so they can naturally feed themselves. One of the sights we love to see is the ducks with their little ducklings. Often you can see the ducks nest near to water where they enjoy paddling.
You can find Robins across all our natural burial grounds. They are very inquisitive and clever and can be quite cheeky and nosy. If you are digging in your garden they are sure to be nearby waiting to get an easy dinner. We often associate them with Christmas and we recently heard a take which may be one reason why. As the tale goes, a little Robin protected the baby Jesus while he was in the manger. The heat of the fire that had been lit got too hot, so the Robin flew in front and puffed out its chest. In this tale that’s how they got their little red chest. However, they are also quite a common sight over the winter as they are very active, but you see them about all year round. They are often seen sitting on fences watching on or hopping in bushes. The photo of this little Robin was taken at Usk Natural Burial Meadow.
Jackdaws may easily be mistaken for other birds like blackbirds and crows. The defining feature of the Jackdaw is their black beak and striking eyes. In addition to this, you often find jackdaws in groups while crows alike to be in pairs or on their own. You can see Jackdaws all year round and will see them emerging from holes in trees where they like to build their nests. We often see them flying up from the grassland at Pembrokeshire after foraging for food. This is where this photo was taken. They mainly eat fruit and seeds and scavenge carrion. They will take eggs and nestlings if need be but this is much less common. You can see Jackdaws throughout the year across the UK.
Yellowhammers are one of the birds we see at Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow. You can see them across the UK and all year round however their numbers have declined in recent years. Unfortunately, this is a common theme with our farmland birds, but areas like our natural burial grounds can be a safe haven. You often see Yellow Hammers Roosting in dense thickets, but in the day they can be found singing on hedges. They like to eat plants and animals like insects and stand out with their yellow heads and bellies.
Goshawks were one of our rarest birds of prey. They have come back from the brink of extinction after persecution and loss of habitat. Unfortunately, they are still under persecution even though they are a protected species. There are were only about 542 birds in the UK back in 2017. Since then there have been reports of unlawful killing and raiding of nests. This means that loss of habitat and human threat to their species is still a big concern. However, Goshawks have re-established and have a chance to grow if we understand their need to be protected, not persecuted. They hunt in woodland and their natural food is wood pigeons and corvids. They will also hunt game birds introduced by humans as well as squirrels and rabbits. We are lucky enough to see these beautiful birds at Cothiemuir Hill where they can hunt and roam safely.
Wood Pidgeons can be found across the UK, throughout the year. We were lucky enough to see this wood pigeon building her nest. Can you spot her in it? We wondered if she and her mate would finish it as the twigs kept falling out of the tree. They did and she went on to have a successful brood. You will find them in woodland, like the woodland at Henley on Thames Woodland Burial Ground. However, you may also see them in open countryside and parkland as they have expanded to other habitats.
Red Legged Partridge
We are really pleased to see how wildlife like this red-legged partridge is thriving since the pasture was restored at Dorset Down Natural Burial Ground.
The red-legged partridge was not originally native to Britain but it has become naturalised after it was introduced in the 1700s. Often you find it on farmland and like the skylark it is a ground-nesting bird. This is really important to consider when taking dogs for a walk during nesting season.
A big thank you to local Dorset photographer Mac Mcnamee for sharing this photo with us. It was one he took when visiting the meadow at Dorset Downs Natural Burial Ground.
One of the birds you may see across our natural burial ground is the Goldfinch. However, they love the teasle found at Bath Natural Burial Meadow and Pembrokeshire so keep an eye out for them here. You can see Goldfinches throughout the year, but some will migrate in the winter. They are very sociable birds and the little red face shows that the bird is a male. The female still has striking wing feathers.
One of the birds of prey you may see flying overhead at our natural burial grounds is the Red Kite. At Henley Woodland Burial Ground one of our families even had a special flyby during a funeral. Red Kites live across the UK and their reintroduction to England and Scotland has been a success. They were previously hunted and persecuted which significantly affected their numbers. Although in the past, they welcomed Red Kites in towns and cities because they helped to keep the streets clean. They are scavenger birds that will tidy up scraps of carrion. Luckily we do not need them in that capacity any more but they are lovely to watch, especially in their native habitat. We have a pair of red kites nesting across the river Spey at Delliefure.
Greenfinches have a similar appearance to Siskins but are chunkier and have a green tinge, rather than yellow. They are about all year and you can find them across the UK. They live in many different habitats. This includes woodland, hedgerow, orchards and farmland. They also love to visit gardens where they can take advantage of bird feeders. However, they can be the troublemakers at the table as they will often squabble with other birds. Their natural diet consists of seeds and insects.
The Tawny owl is one of the most common owls in the UK. They are also one of the most common breeds around Dorset so keep an eye out if you are wandering near woodland at Dorset Downs. If you can’t see them you may still hear them tear them twit twooing in the trees if you. However, they are nocturnal so there is less chance of spotting them during the day. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of them around dawn or dusk. There are 4 other owl species that are present in the UK. These are the Barn Owl, also known as the ‘ghost owl’ because of their ghostly face. The Little Owl, The Long-Eared Owl, The short Eared-Owl and the European Eagle Owl.
The coal tit is similar in appearance to those from the tit family with its little black and white head. However, it has a distinctive grey back and is a bit smaller than the blue or great tit. They enjoy eating insects seeds and nuts and their build gives them an advantage with trees like the conifer. They will often collect and store food too. During the wintertime, they can be seen in flocks roaming through gardens and woodland. You may see these roaming in the woodland like those surrounding Usk, or in Conifer woods.
The great tit is the largest UK Tit you may find at our natural burial grounds. It has a black and white head, similar to that of the coal tit but has a distinctive yellow belly and is bigger in size. It can be quite aggressive while foraging for food and will fight off smaller tits. This is most noticeable when watching them feed on a bird table or feeder. However, in the winter it will join with smaller birds like blue tits to form flocks. These can be seen roaming areas like gardens, woodland and other countryside habitats for food.
The collared dove lives in many different habitats including woodland, parks, gardens and farmland. It’s a pretty little Pidgeon that has a very distinctive black collar around its neck. Often they like to be on their own or in pairs, but if there is an abundance of food will form flocks. You will often hear its familiar cooing when they are around and it has become one of the commonest garden birds as well as one we often see at our natural burial grounds. You may come across this bird while wandering the meadow at Dorset Downs. They like to sit in trees too so keep an eye out for them there.
Magpies are one of our well-known birds. As many know they have a penchant for shiny things. They are very easy to spot and identify with their black, white and teal plumage. You can see them across the UK and throughout the year. They have not gained a very good reputation as they will take eggs from songbirds nests. However, these are a natural part of their food source during nesting season. What we often overlook is the fact they are pest destroyers and have their place in nature. Due to the decline in songbirds, their thieving may more noticeable these days. However, we can’t overlook we have had a much more detrimental impact on our songbirds. We first need to fix how we protect our songbirds and their habitats before we place the blame of declining numbers on magpies. It may be they offer a natural balance in a natural world.
Pink Footed Goose
Pink-footed geese are one of the birds we have seen at Cothiemuir Hill Woodland Burial Ground. They are a migratory species arriving in the UK for the winter before they leave to breed elsewhere. Pink Footed Geese are not common birds in the UK although numbers are on the rise, possibly due to better roosting protection. They will eat a mix of grain, potatoes, grass and winter cereals.
You can see blue tits all year round and they are one of our very well known birds. We see these colourful little birds at all our natural burial grounds. They stay close to where they hatched and can be are versatile little creatures nesting in a variety of situations. This can include bird boxes, letterboxes and even street lamps. In our native habitats, they will use holes in trees, or anything they can find with a small hole. This provides good protection from rivals and raiders.
Starlings are relatively large birds with beautiful spotted bellies. They were once abundant but have suffered in recent years with a population decline. Fortunately, we have good numbers in the UK. You can often see Starlings flying in beautiful clusters flying over the natural burial grounds before roosting. These are mumurations. They have beautiful bird song, but one interesting fact we found out was that they are also fantastic at mimicking noises. This includes other birds and our man-made mechanical sounds. Even when you can’t see starlings you can often find signs of them. These little holes were made by Starling in the meadow at Pembrokeshire while looking for grubs like leatherjackets. Starlings are therefore a good natural pesticide, while we can offer them a safe space to feed. It’s a good step towards a sustainable future that works with our wildlife.
You can see kestrels above meadows or hunting along edges of woodland. They will hover in the air until they can swoop in to catch a vole, shrew or any other small rodent or bird. They have a very clever way of flying where they use the wind to hold them steady and have wonderful eyesight. You can see Kestrels across the UK. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining which may be due to a loss of food source with more intensive farming. It could also be due to them eating poisoned rodents. Understanding how we can manage farmland and native habitats that support their food source may help to stop their decline. The meadows at our natural burial grounds are the perfect place for them to hunt as the grasses can grow and are managed sympathetically. It allows our burial grounds to be sustainable while working with wildlife. The wonderful wildflower field at Aylesbury Vale Natural Burial Meadow is the perfect place to look out for Kestrels.
The House Sparrow is one of the birds that you will find on our red list in the UK after suffering a serious decline. In fact, there is a ‘world sparrow day’ to help raise awareness of their declining numbers which is on the 20th of March. They are often found in the countryside or in towns but are much less common in cities. They are very opportunistic and like to nest near people in small crevices and holes. However, they will head out to the countryside to forage for food on farmland or grassland. This is often what they are doing when you see them at our natural burial grounds.
Male blackbirds can be identified by their glossy black feathers. However, female blackbirds actually have a beautiful brown plumage so their name is a bit misleading. They are very territorial when they are nesting, but they make excellent parents. The nest shown is a blackbird nest. It highlights the craftsmanship that goes into making a nest and how clean they keep their nests. They have a beautiful melodic song and can often be found looking for insects in the summer or seeds and berries in winter. You can find blackbirds across the UK in all habitats, except for very high peaks in mountains. They are visitors we often see at our natural burial grounds including Bath Natural Burial Meadow.
The wren is one of the lightest birds that you can find in Britain. The adults weigh roughly the same as £1. If you hold £1 in your hand and feel the weight it makes you realise just how amazing that is. They are very small birds and their long legs and tail are very distinctive. You find wrens across the UK all year round. They adapt very well to different habitats surviving in most habitats including rural and urban areas. They may be small but they make their presence known with their loud song.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Woodpeckers are one of the birds you can often hear, but not see. They make a very distinctive sound while making a hole for a nest or looking for insects. Woodpeckers are one of the birds you can often hear, but not see. They make a very distinctive sound while making a hole for a nest or looking for insects. We know we have a woodpecker very near to Pembrokshire Natural Burial Ground because we often hear it. We have seen glimpses of a great spotted woodpecker in the area, however, it has yet to make a full appearance. You can find these across our other natural burial grounds. They are most common in England and Wales. Keep an eye out for them in our woodlands clinging to tree trunks and branches.
The osprey is one of the birds you may see at our natural burial grounds in Scotland. We have sightings at Cothiemuir Hill. There have also been sightings at Delliefure. They love fish and are usually seen near water during their autumn migration. They are not a common bird as they were driven to extinction in the 19th century when they were hunted and their eggs taken by collectors. Breeding programmes have helped these species to come back from the brink of extinction. Hopefully, future support of these species and their habitat will allow them to recover so they are not such a rarity.
Let us know what you find
We love to hear about the birds and animals people see at our natural burial grounds.
If you would like to share what you have seen or photos you have taken we would love to see them. You can share these on our social media (Instagram @natural_burials).