Come to Cabragh Wetlands this Saturday (25th February) for our annual Bird Box Day – a great chance for parents and children to put together a pre-cut bird house to adorn your garden. We will be open from 10.00 to 1.00, with a charge of €10 per box. At 11.00 the same morning, Cabragh Community Allotments and Thurles Grow-It-Yourself Groups are hosting a seed sale at Cabragh Wetlands, when there will be chance to buy organic seed potatoes, vegetable seeds, compost, seed trays and other vital ingredients for the new veg season. Spring is in the air – time to prepare!
It is not only gardeners who are adjusting to the changing season. A friend has written about how birds use an extraordinary range of senses and triggers to get the message out that they are available as fit and successful breeding partners for the new season. When the little blue tit looks at the world he is seeing into the ultra-violet spectrum, beyond the capability of human eyesight. Lady blue tits look out for the males with the brightest ultra violet caps, a sure sign that he is the best mate and excellent at catching caterpillars, as the carotene from the caterpillars gives his yellow feathers their brightness.
The degree of yellow-orange in the blackbird’s bill indicates the age of the individual bird; age suggests experience and proven breeding success. This expertise tells the female her chicks will be better fed, with larger and more frequent portions provided. Adult starlings use their song to convey the same message. Younger birds sing as well, but their repertoire is much more limited. The younger male will not have had the chance to prove himself a successful raiser of young. Song thus becomes an honest indicator of the starling’s parental ability. House sparrow females assess the suitability of their menfolk by checking the size of the black patch beneath the male’s chin. The bigger the bib the older and more experienced the male, and thus a better and more experienced mate.
Nest construction is another good indicator of breeding credentials. The wren, our smallest native bird, hides in the undergrowth and scurries frantically when in the open. The fiercely territorial male patrols largish areas, building several nests in holes in walls and trees, even using the abandoned nests of other species. These are called cock nests. He leaves them unlined, because it is the prerogative of the female to select a nest for her eggs – if she has been persuaded to mate by the combination of his song (the loudest in the garden) and nest-building skills. When her choice is made, the female will gather soft material to line her chosen nest – feathers are a favourite. If you have a moulting dog at home, scatter a few handfuls of dog hair around the garden for the wrens to use. The remaining unused and unlined cock nests may be used for roosting or as play nests. While mum is busy with her brood, the male will grab a few hours rest in the peace of a cock nest, and it provides an overflow and training base when the chicks get bigger. If he is really lucky, the male might even attract a second female to start a family in one of his spare nests……
So when you see the birds sizing each other up and pairing off over the next few weeks, think about the multitude of chat up lines and attraction techniques that nature has given them.
There will an evening of music and dance at Cabragh Wetlands on Tuesday 28th February at 8.00pm.