Goldcrest - Regulus regulus
The goldcrest (Regulus regulus) is a very small passerine bird in the kinglet family. Its colourful golden crest feathers gives rise to its English and scientific names, and possibly to it being called the king of the birds in European folklore. Several subspecies are recognised across the very large distribution range that includes much of Eurasia and the islands of Macaronesia. Birds from the north and east of its breeding range migrate to winter further south.
The goldcrest is the smallest European bird, 8.5–9.5 cm (3.3–3.7 in) in length, with a 13.5–15.5 cm (5.3–6.1 in) wingspan and a weight of 4.5–7.0 g (0.16–0.25 oz).
Several small passerine species survive freezing winter nights by inducing a lower metabolic rate and hypothermia, of a maximum of 10 °C (18 °F) below normal body temperature, in order to reduce energy consumption overnight. However, in freezing conditions, it may be that for very small birds, including the tiny goldcrest, the energy economies of induced hypothermia may be insufficient to counterbalance the negative effects of hypothermia including the energy required to raise body temperature back to normal at dawn. Observations of five well-fed birds suggest that they maintain normal body temperatures during cold nights by metabolising fat laid down during the day, and that they actually use behavioural thermoregulation strategies, such as collective roosting in dense foliage or snow holes to survive winter nights. Two birds roosting together reduce their heat loss by a quarter, and three birds by a third. During an 18‑hour winter night, with temperatures as low as −25 °C (−13 °F) in the north of its range, goldcrests huddled together can each burn off fat equivalent to 20% of body weight to keep warm.
Until the severe winter of 1916–17 the Goldcrest was abundant and widespread, nesting in all the wooded portions of our islands; in 1920 it could have little more than an obituary notice, for the nesting stock was practically wiped out. ... and for some years, even as a winter visitor, the Goldcrest remained rare, absent from most of its nesting haunts. It is, however, now fully re-established.
Conversely, populations can expand rapidly after a series of mild winters. In lowland Britain, there was an increase of 48% following the 1970/71 winter, with many pairs spreading into deciduous woodlands where they would not normally breed.
Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Pliny (23–79 AD) both wrote about the legend of a contest among the birds to see who should be their king, the title to be awarded to the one that could fly highest. Initially, it looked as though the eagle would win easily, but as he began to tire, a small bird that had hidden under the eagle's tail feathers emerged to fly even higher and claimed the title. Following from this legend, in much European folklore the wren has been described as the king of the birds or as a flame bearer. However, these terms were also applied to the Regulus species, the fiery crowns of the goldcrest and firecrest making them more likely to be the original bearers of these titles, and, because of the legend's reference to the smallest of birds becoming king, the title was probably transferred to the equally tiny wren. The confusion was probably compounded by the similarity and consequent interchangeability of the Greek words for the wren (βασιλεύς basileus, and the crests (βασιλισκος basiliskos, In English, the association between the goldcrest and Eurasian wren may have been reinforced by the kinglet's old name of gold-crested wren.
This tiny woodland bird has had little other impact on literature, although it is the subject of Charles Tennyson Turner's short poem, The Gold-crested Wren first published in 1868. An old English name for the goldcrest is the woodcock pilot, since migrating birds preceded the arrival of Eurasian woodcocks by a couple of days. There are unfounded legends that the goldcrest would hitch a ride in the feathers of the larger bird, and similar stories claimed that owls provided the transport. Suffolk fishermen called this bird herring spink or tot o'er seas because migrating goldcrests often landed on the rigging of herring boats out in the North Sea.
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Shorelark - Eremophila alpestris
aka Horned Lark
Mostly a scarce winter visitor to the north sea coasts of England and Scotland from it's breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
Very rarely breeds in Scottish highlands.
Coastal dunes, shingle and rough coastal fields.
Contrasting yellow and black face and throat pattern is best distinguishing feature. Sexes similar but female has duller face and more streaked back.
Often occurs as small parties on shorelines.
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Reed Bunting - Emberiza schoeniclus (M)
It breeds across Europe and much of temperate and northern Asia. Most birds migrate south in winter, but those in the milder south and west of the range are resident. It is common in reedbeds and also breeds in drier open areas such as moorland and cultivation. For example, it is a component of the purple moor grass and rush pastures, a type of Biodiversity Action Plan habitat in the UK. It occurs on poorly drained neutral and acidic soils of the lowlands and upland fringe.
The common reed bunting is a medium-sized bird, 13.5–15.5 cm long, with a small but sturdy seed-eater's bill. The male has a black head and throat, white neck collar and underparts, and a heavily streaked brown back. The female is much duller, with a streaked brown head, and is more streaked below.
Despite its name, the Reed Bunting breeds across a range of habitats from reedbeds and conifer plantations to hedgerows and arable crops like oil seed rape. During the non-breeding season, this species is dependent upon weed seeds, and as such, Reed Buntings would have joined other species in winter flocks on farmland stubbles. The decline of this species matches that of other farmland species like Tree Sparrow and Linnet. The increasing winter use of gardens during the 1980s probably reflects the decrease in availability of winter food.
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Red Kite - Milvus Milvus
Persecuted to near extinction in the UK, the Red Kite has made a tremendous comeback thanks to reintroduction programmes and legal protection. Seeing one of these magnificent birds soaring high in the sky is a true delight.
Once a very rare bird that could only be found in Central Wales, the Red Kite has been successfully reintroduced to several areas of the UK and can now be seen in Wales, Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the Chilterns. A large, graceful bird of prey, it soars over woods and open areas, its distinctive shape and 'mewing' calls making it easy to identify. Red Kites were routinely persecuted as hunters of game and domestic animals, but they are in fact scavengers, eating carrion and scraps, and taking only small prey like rabbits.
Red kites were common in Shakespearean London, where they fed on scraps in the streets and collected rags or stole hung-out washing for nest-building materials. Shakespeare even referred to this habit in 'The Winter's Tale' when he wrote: 'When the kite builds, look to lesser linen'. The nest of a red kite is an untidy affair, often built on top of an old Crow's nest. It is lined with sheep's wool and decorated with all kinds of objects like paper, plastic and cloth.
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Sanderling - Calidris Alba
The sanderling (Calidris alba) is a small wading bird. The name derives from Old English sand-yrðling, "sand-ploughman". The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific alba is Latin for "white".
It is a circumpolar Arctic breeder, and is a long-distance migrant, wintering south to South America, South Europe, Africa, and Australia. It is highly gregarious in winter, sometimes forming large flocks on coastal mudflats or sandy beaches.
The sanderling breeds in the High Arctic areas of North America, Europe and Asia. In North America, it breeds in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Nunavut, Greenland (and to a lesser extent Alaska). In Eurasia, it breeds in Spitsbergen and areas of northern Russia from the Taymyr Peninsula to the New Siberian Islands. In the northern winter, it has a nearly cosmopolitan distribution across the world's marine coasts. It is a complete migrant, travelling between 3,000 to 10,000 km (1,900 to 6,200 mi) from its breeding grounds to its wintering sites. Birds that travel further also arrive later and leave sooner. Most adults leave the breeding grounds in July and early August, whereas juvenile birds leave in late August and early September. The northward migration begins in March at the southern end of their winter distribution.
If its size is misjudged, a sanderling in breeding plumage can be mistaken for some varieties of stint, or a sanderling in winter plumage can be mistaken for a dunlin or red knot. It can be told from other small wading birds, given good views, by its lack of a hind toe. Its behavior is also distinctive.
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