Wednesday 13 December 2023

Blackbirds in decline

Blackbirds are sadly few in the park these days, so it was good to see the pair from the Rose Garden shrubbery in a tree. This is the male.

There's also a pair in the Dell. Both bred successfully this year, but somehow the population never seems to rise.

There's no shortage of Chaffinches, though. This male is one of a pair often seen near the Little Owls' tree at the Round Pond.

The owl herself was staying in her hole, no wonder on a dank chilly day.

A Pied Wagtail looked for insects in the stinking mess on the gravel strip.

As usual several Robins were singing in the Rose Garden. This one is in the thicket of climbing roses. There was an ugly sawn-off tree here about six feet high, so the gardeners planted roses to hide it, of a very vigorous more or less wild variety that has spread into a huge tangle.

The Rose Garden Robins seem to be a fairly peaceful lot, unlike the dominant one in the Flower Walk which attacks every small bird it sees.

A Magpie perched in the brown leaves of an English oak. Young oaks and beeches keep their dead leaves over the winter but shed them when they grow larger, an adaptation that may help save big trees from being damaged in gales.

The female Peregrine was on the tower for a short time around 2 pm, but had flown off by the time I got round to there. However, Tom sent a fine picture of a Peregrine flying at Rainham a few days ago ...

... and the familiar Barn Owl at Rainham that has a box in a secluded tree and can be seen most evenings when it comes out to hunt.

The Grey Heron on the island had come down from the nest it claims and was standing on the shore. There were no rivals in sight, and no sign of a mate either. This bird's beak and legs are turning pink, a sign of being in breeding condition. It may be the one with a very bright beak that nested unsuccessfully last year in a tree only a few feet from its present place.

A young Herring Gull looked for something to play with but rejected a leaf, a stone and a stick and wandered off. Another was amused for a while by a larger leaf. What they like most is things that roll. A tennis ball is much enjoyed, and quite easy to find as people throw them for their dogs and the dogs don't find them. Small glass bottles that make a tinkling sound are also very popular.

The pigeon-eating Lesser Black-Backed Gull was lunching at the Dell restaurant.

The young Great Crested Grebe was fishing with its mother, an arrangement that benefits both as fish fleeing from one bird my come within reach of the other.

Cormorants perched on the remains of the fallen horse chestnut tree in the Long Water, with Shovellers feeding underneath. The very large tree fell into the lake about 15 years ago and most of it has now rotted away.

The gang of five teenage Mute Swans saw someone feeding the birds at the Triangle car park and joined the crowd converging on the spot.

A pair of Egyptian Geese displayed noisily on a dead tree near the Serpentine Gallery. They do this most in winter, claiming territory before they start nesting. The tree where they display is usually not the one they nest in. A tree with a sawn-off top makes a good display platform, but they need one with a large hole for a nest.


  1. Hi Ralph, how sad that there are fewer blackbirds there a reason for this do you think ? a FINE pic of the barn owl..I am volunteering with my local RSPB group with them @ the moment...regards,Stephen.

    1. One very important reason is that dead leaves have been blown out of shrubberies with leaf blowers, destroying the habitat of Blackbirds and thrushes generally. I've been trying to stop the park management from doing this for years but it's like talking to a brick wall. Typically, they have put up a notice boasting about 'leaving the leaves' but have continued to clear out the shrubberies. As I have pointed out before, notices are a substitute for action, and on the whole the more notices any organisation puts out the less effective it is.

    2. How awfully shortsighted of the park surprises me not a bit !...a small example on mankind's effect on the natural world for short term "gain"..regards,Stephen.

    3. The silliest thing about it is that leaving the leaves in the shrubberies would (1) save the work of blowing them out, (2) make a mulch that would keep down weeds, and (3) help the invertebrates they keep droning on about, and in that way help the birds that eat the invertebrates. So it would be a win-win-win choice. I have told them exactly that several times.

  2. As you say,like talking to a brick wall..same with the awful fox "cull"....wish me luck with the barn owls..regards,Stephen

    1. Indeed, good luck and may the Force be with you.

    2. Ralph!! I am your father!

  3. I haven't seen the blackbird family that lived under my window since the summer. They are diminishing here as well. There must be something else going on.
    Gorgeous picture of the Barn Owl! Silent like death on wings.

    1. Blackbirds are said to be in slight decline here, but according to the RSPB there are still over 5 million breeding pairs in Britain, and winter migrants are equal or greater in number. However, it seems they really are declining in cities as more and more of the ground surface is concreted over. Turning gardens into patios, a fashionable thing to do, on a large scale is a disaster for them.