Stock Dove

Easily overlooked as just another pigeon, the Stock Dove is the secret agent hiding in plain sight. Looking the same, but subtly different. The Stock Dove is smaller than the similar-looking Woodpigeon, though without the white patches on its wings or neck and no pale rump. They are mainly found in large gardens, parkland and avenues old trees where there is water nearby to drink. In the winter, if you see a flock of Rooks or Jackdaws on the ground, take a closer look at the pigeons as some of these can be sneaky Stock Doves.

Like the Woodpigeon, they are blue grey with a purple sheen on their neck and a pinkish breast. They have grey wings with short black bars and dark edges. There is no white on their wings when flying. Their call is different too. It is an “ooo-wah” unlike the Woodpigeon’s more familiar “take two cows taffy”. The Stock Dove is a bit of a veggie, eating mainly plant material like seeds buds and leaves.

To attract a female, the male Stock Dove performs a display flight, flying in large circles with wings held in shallow V. He then lands on the ground puffing out his chest while calling and bowing to the female like some Elizabethan courtier. The Stock Dove is unique amongst pigeons because it nests in holes in trees, cliff faces, and even rabbit burrows. They lay 2 eggs at different times, which both parents incubate. The eggs hatch apart after 16 days. The youngsters are fed by mum and dad and can fly at 25 days, becoming independent soon afterwards. They can have two or more broods in a year as, like other pigeons, they have the secret of crop milk.

The Stock Dove is mainly resident with 260,000 pairs and is found everywhere except in northern Scotland. Over half of the European Stock Dove population lives in the UK. A few of the European birds will pop over in the winter to further increase numbers and exchange spy stories. The oldest ringed bird lived to be 12 years old. Unlike the Woodpigeon, the Stock Dove is protected. Long ago people were not so nice to the Stock Dove. In East Anglia, occupied rabbit holes were covered up with crossed sticks so that the parent Stock Dove could feed their chicks, but the chicks could not leave the nest. They were then taken for the pot when they were ready. That’s fennies for you.

Their Latin name is ’columba oenas’. The ’columba’ is derived from the Ancient Greek ’kolumbos’ meaning a ‘diver’ because of its swimming motion in the air and the ’oenas’ means ‘pigeon’. The English name comes from an old word ’stocc’ meaning ‘stake or tree trunk’. Therefore, Stock Dove is a dove which lives in hollow trees.

Cetti’s Warbler

The secretive Cetti’s Warbler (pronounced chetty) is easy to recognise as it is so loud and says his name. They first came in 1972, having spread from the Mediterranean, and have quickly populated Southern Britain. They live in dense bushes, marshes or near rivers where there are brambles and willows with reed beds close by.

Slightly smaller than a House Sparrow, the Cetti’s Warbler is a rather large, dumpy, Wren like bird with reddish-brown upperparts, pale grey underparts, a whitish throat and a pale stripe over the eye. It has a broad, rounded tail which is often held up like a Wren’s. The male dashes rapidly from song perch to song perch deep within bushes and gives a sudden explosively loud song which runs along the lines of “chet! chet-tee!” (or “chippy-chip-shop” if you prefer). They eat insects, which they mainly catch on the ground.

Their social life can be a bit complex with some males having one female while others, with bigger territories, can have up to four! The female builds a rough cup-shaped nest off the ground amongst vegetation while the male is busy singing to keep his territory and looking after his other wives. She incubates the 4-5 eggs, which hatch after 16 days. The youngsters can fly after 14 days and stay with mum and dad for a month. Dad will grudgingly help in the feeding the first brood if the female has a second. He is not much of a family man, more worried about maintaining his territory, which he does throughout the year.

The Cetti’s Warbler is mainly resident, but numbers can fall after severe winters when insects are in short supply. There are about 2,000 pairs, mostly in South England. Their Latin name is ’cettia cetti’ and they are named after an 18th century priest and zoologist, Francesco Cetti. Pretty cool being remembered by having a bird named after you.

Nightingale

Immortalised in the song ‘a Nightingale sang in Berkley Square’ (which was probably a Robin as Nightingales hate cities) and the subject of many famous poems throughout history, inspiring the likes of Homer, Milton and Keats, everyone has heard of the Nightingale, yet few people have actually heard it. The Nightingale likes to hide and skulk about in deciduous woods and thickets close to water, mainly in Southern England and East Anglia.

The Nightingale is like a large Robin without the red breast. It has rich brown upperparts, paler underparts, a whiter throat, a reddish tail, and large eyes. The bill is brown with a pale base. They sing during the day, but their song is most noticeable after dark. After dusk or before dawn are the best times to hear them. On a calm night, their song can carry for a mile. They have a rich, varied, flutey song with a twirly introduction and deep “chook chook” notes which slowly accelerates to an explosive ending. These guys can really sing. Clarity of tone and exceptional volume is their hallmark. They have an occasional thin “seep seep” contact call. 

Nightingales move about on the ground with large hops while flicking their wings and cocking their tails. They eat insects, worms, spiders and berries.

The male returns first in mid-April, establishes a territory and sings to attract a mate. He will sing through to June, only stopping once the young have hatched, and he is too busy helping with feeding. The female builds a bulky nest of grass and leaves on or near the ground. She lays 4-5 eggs in May and incubates them on her own. The eggs hatch after 13 days and both mum and dad feed the chicks who can fly after 11 days. The youngsters are fully independent 3 weeks after leaving the nest and the whole family returns to Africa by late summer.

The Nightingale is a rare summer visitor with about 6,500 pairs coming to Britain. They are ‘Red listed’ as they have declined in recent years. This is thought to be due to the decrease in coppiced woodland and the spread of deer reducing suitable habitat.

Their Latin name is ’luscinia megarhynchos’ where ’luscinia’ means ‘nightingale’ and ’megarhynchos’ is from Ancient Greek ’megas’ for ‘great’ and ’rhunkhos’ for ‘bill’. Nightingale with an enormous nose is a little unfair. The English name is derived from ‘night’, and the Old English word ’galan’ meaning ‘to sing’. Much better.