Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
The common chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), or simply the chiffchaff, is a common and widespread leaf warbler which breeds in open woodlands throughout northern and temperate Europe and Asia.
It is a migratory passerine which winters in southern and western Europe, southern Asia and north Africa. Greenish-brown above and off-white below, it is named onomatopoeically for its simple chiff-chaff song. It has a number of subspecies, some of which are now treated as full species.
This warbler gets its name from its simple distinctive song, a repetitive cheerful chiff-chaff. This song is one of the first avian signs that spring has returned. Its call is a hweet, less disyllabic than the hooeet of the willow warbler or hu-it of the western Bonelli's warbler.
The common chiffchaff breeds across Europe and Asia east to eastern Siberia and north to about 70°N, with isolated populations in northwest Africa, northern and western Turkey and northwestern Iran. It is migratory, but it is one of the first passerine birds to return to its breeding areas in the spring and among the last to leave in late autumn. When breeding, it is a bird of open woodlands with some taller trees and ground cover for nesting purposes. These trees are typically at least 5 metres (16 ft) high, with undergrowth that is an open, poor to medium mix of grasses, bracken, nettles or similar plants. Its breeding habitat is quite specific, and even near relatives do not share it; for example, the willow warbler (P. trochilus) prefers younger trees, while the wood warbler (P. sibilatrix) prefers less undergrowth. In winter, the common chiffchaff uses a wider range of habitats including scrub, and is not so dependent on trees. It is often found near water, unlike the willow warbler which tolerates drier habitats. There is an increasing tendency to winter in western Europe well north of the traditional areas, especially in coastal southern England and the mild urban microclimate of London. These overwintering common chiffchaffs include some visitors of the eastern subspecies abietinus and tristis, so they are certainly not all birds which have bred locally, although some undoubtedly are.
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Stonechat - Saxicola Torquata
The stonechat is 11.5–13 cm long and weighs 13–17 g, slightly smaller than the European robin. Both sexes have distinctively short wings, shorter than those of the more migratory whinchat and Siberian stonechat.
The summer male has black upperparts, a black head, an orange throat and breast, and a white belly and vent. It also has a white half-collar on the sides of its neck, a small white scapular patch on the wings, and a very small white patch on the rump often streaked with black. The female has brown upperparts and head, and no white neck patches, rump or belly, these areas being streaked dark brown on paler brown, the only white being the scapular patch on the wings and even this often being buffy-white.
European stonechats breed in heathland, coastal dunes and rough grassland with scattered small shrubs and bramble, open gorse, tussocks or heather. They are short-distance migrants or non-migratory, with part of the population (particularly from northeastern parts of the range, where winters are colder) moving south to winter further south in Europe and more widely in north Africa.
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Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos Caudatus
The long-tailed tit is globally widespread throughout temperate northern Europe and Asia, into boreal Scandinavia and south into the Mediterranean zone. It inhabits deciduous and mixed woodland with a well-developed shrub layer, favouring edge habitats. It can also be found in scrub, heathland with scattered trees, bushes and hedges, in farmland and riverine woodland, parks and gardens. The bird's year-round diet of insects and social foraging bias habitat choice in winter towards deciduous woodland, typically of oak, ash and locally sycamore species. For nesting, strong preference is shown towards scrub areas. The nest is often built in thorny bushes less than 3 metres above the ground.
The nest of the long-tailed tit is constructed from four materials - lichen, feathers, spider egg cocoons and moss, with over 6,000 pieces used for a typical nest. The nest is a flexible sac with a small, round entrance on top, suspended either low in a gorse or bramble bush or high up in the forks of tree branches. The structural stability of the nest is provided by a mesh of moss and spider silk. The tiny leaves of the moss act as hooks and the spider silk of egg cocoons provides the loops; thus forming a natural form of velcro. The tit lines the outside with hundreds of flakes of pale lichens - this provides camouflage. Inside, it lines the nest with more than 2,000 downy feathers to insulate the nest. Nests suffer a high rate of predation with only 17% success.
Outside the breeding season they form compact flocks of 6 to 17 birds, composed of family parties (parents and offspring) from the previous breeding season, together with any extra adults that helped to raise a brood. These flocks will occupy and defend territories against neighbouring flocks. The driving force behind the flocking behaviour is thought to be that of winter roosting, being susceptible to cold; huddling increases survival through cold nights.
From July to February, the non-breeding season, long-tailed tits form flocks of relatives and non-relatives, roosting communally. When the breeding season begins, the flocks break up, and the birds attempt to breed in monogamous pairs. Males remain within the winter territory, while females have a tendency to wander to neighbouring territories.
Pairs whose nests fail have three choices: try again, abandon nesting for the season or help at a neighbouring nest. It has been shown that failed pairs split and help at the nests of male relatives, recognition being established vocally. The helped nests have greater success due to higher provisioning rates and better nest defence. At the end of the breeding season, in June–July, the birds reform the winter flocks in their winter territory.
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Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
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It is a bird of open woodlands with trees and ground cover for nesting, including most importantly birch, alder, and willow habitats. The nest is usually built in close contact with the ground, often in low vegetation. Like most Old World warblers (Sylviidae), this small passerine is insectivorous. In northern Europe, it is one of the first warblers to return in the spring though is later than the closely related chiffchaff.
It is a typical leaf warbler in appearance, 11–12.5 cm long and 7–15 g weight. It is greenish brown above and off-white to yellowish below; the wings are plain greenish-brown with no wingbars. Juveniles are yellower below than adults. It is very similar to the chiffchaff, but non-singing birds can be distinguished from that species by their paler pinkish-yellow legs (dark brown to blackish in chiffchaff), longer paler bill, more elegant shape and longer primary projection (wingtip). Its song is a simple repetitive descending whistle, while the contact call is a disyllabic 'hoo-eet', distinct from the more monosyllabic 'hweet' of chiffchaffs.
Willow warblers prefer young, open, scrubby woodland with small trees, including human-altered habitats such as coppice and young plantations up to 10–20 years old. High amounts of birch, alder and willow, with good lichen amounts, and water features (e.g. streams), fields with large amounts of bracken and mosses, and patches of low bramble (for nest cover) are preferred, but it will use a wide range of other species, including young or open coniferous forests. Incorporating woodland ride edge thickets is beneficial, as is 15 metre woodland edges of varying structure and height. They prefer damp woodland areas. Thicket forming shrubs like blackthorn provide pockets of habitat. Deer browsing can degrade the required low cover.
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Skylark - Alauda Arvensis
Skylarks are characteristic of semi-natural grassland systems from sand dunes through heathland to marginal upland, but are most common in arable farmland, making use of the nesting cover and bare ground for feeding that crops themselves provide throughout the year. Males are highly territorial, using long song flights at high altitude to broadcast to rivals and potential mates because the open landscapes they prefer are devoid of high perches. The stamina required to sustain long song flights has led to song flight length being used as an “honest signal” of male quality by females, allowing male Skylarks to advertise themselves without bright plumage, so they have kept the cryptic, brown and streaked coloration that affords them protection from predators on the ground.
Although migratory in much of northern Europe, British breeding Skylarks are believed not to move far between seasons, although upland birds move to lower latitudes. They can then often begin to breed in March and continue into July, making up to three breeding attempts. In winter, they mostly use crop stubble and fallow fields, in which they forage for weed seed and spilled grain, often in large flocks. Throughout the year, the Skylark’s heritage as a steppe species is apparent in its avoidance of vertical structures, which restricts the suitability of farmland with a high density of hedgerows.
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