Lapwing

The Lapwing is the Robin Hood of the bird world with his green coat and a feather in his cap. They often hang out with Golden Plovers and can be found on farmland, moors, and marshes throughout the UK, particularly in the lowland areas of Northern England, the Borders, and Eastern Scotland. They form large flocks in autumn for the winter.

A little smaller than a Woodpigeon, the Lapwing has a dark metallic green back, a black breast, a white face, white underparts with an orangey bit under the tail, long legs, and a long wispy black crest. They have broad rounded black and white wings which make their bodies look small when flying. Their flight appears lazy with laid back wing beats. They have a distinctive "peewit" call which gives them their alternative, Peewit, name.

Lapwings eat insects like earthworms, leatherjackets, beetles, flies, moths, caterpillars, ants, spiders, and snails. Just about anything insect-ish, really. They will also eat plants.

Nesting starts in March with the male doing exciting aerial displays, tumbling about the sky over his territory in the flat open countryside. He makes several scrapes in the ground from which the female picks one and completes the nest by lining it with grasses and leaves. Her 4 eggs are beautifully camouflaged and hatch after 26 days with both birds helping with the incubation, though mum doing most of it. The youngsters can feed themselves soon after hatching. If a predator comes, they stay still and hide while mum and dad do distraction flights to lure the predator away. The youngsters can fly after 35 days, becoming independent soon afterwards. From June onwards, they gather in flocks to travel around finding food . 

Lapwings are highly migratory over most of their extensive range. There are about 150,000 resident in Britain with many coming over from Europe in the winter to boost numbers to 650,000. A recent decline has been linked to changes in farming with the move from spring to autumn sowing of cereal crops. Autumn sown crops are too tall by spring to make them suitable sites for Lapwings to breed. The oldest ringed Lapwing lived to be 21 years old.

Their Latin name is 'vanellus vanellus' where 'vanellus' is the Medieval Latin for the Lapwing and derives from 'vannus' a broad rounded end fan used for blowing chaff and dirt off grain. It looks like a Lapwing's wing. The English name has been attributed to the "lapping" sound its wings make in flight. The Lapwing is also called a 'green plover' as they are often seen with plovers.

Whitethroat

A common summer visitor that likes a good hedge to sing from. They come all the way from the Sabel region of North Africa. Their characteristic is their white throat and buzzy, scratchy song which they often sing while doing a 'parachute' descent.

The Whitethroat is similar in size to a Great Tit and stands alert and perky. They have a white throat, grey head, reddish-brown wings that are rufous fringed, and a pale pink or grey breast. They have a long, slim tail with white edges that can be seen when flying. The female is similar to the male, only a little browner. They skulk in the bushes during August while they do their moult. When not skulking, they love to sing scritchy-scratchy jumbles of verses at you or an alarmed buzzing "chrrrr!" if you get too close.

Whitethroats feed mainly on insects like beetles, aphids, caterpillars and flies. They eat berries in late summer when getting ready to migrate.

The male Whitethroats arrive here about 10 days before the females and set up territories ready for when their potential partners arrive. He builds several cup shaped nests in a hedge or other dense vegetation. The picky female then selects one and completes the structure to just how she likes. The 4-5 eggs are laid in late April or May and hatch after 11 days. Both parents incubate the eggs, though mum usually does the night shift while dad looks out for predators. The young can fly after 10 days and stay with mum and dad for 2-3 weeks before becoming fully independent. Whitethroats usually have two broods.

They can be found across most of Britain, though they avoid mountains and urban areas. About 1 million pairs are here between April and October. They suffered a population crash in the late 1960s because of a drought in Africa, but their numbers have since recovered. Their Latin name is 'sylvia communis' where 'communis' means 'common' and 'sylvia' is the word for a woodland sprite derived from 'silva' for wood or forest. A common woodland fairy sounds right for something that sings while gracefully parachuting down.

Pheasant

Pheasants are funny birds. They try really hard to hide in the grass, but lose their nerve at the last minute and make an explosive amount of noise when they burst out, giving you a heart attack. Snobby people will say they are not native to Britain as they were introduced, but this was by the Romans a long, long time ago. They are now definitely part of the family. The poor old Pheasant is one of the world's most hunted birds. Millions are reared every year and shot for sport.

The Common Pheasant is a chicken-sized bird but, unlike a chicken, they are rubbish at crossing the road as you see lots of squashed ones. Out in the countryside, you can find them at woodland edges, near thick hedges, or in grass and reed filled ditches. The male is brilliantly coloured with a shiny copper covered body marked with dark 'scallops' on the back and sides. He has a metallic green head and neck with a red face and small red ear tufts. He has a long, ginger coloured, barred tail and sometimes sports a fashionable white neck ring. The female is smaller, pale brown with dark flecks on her upper parts and tail. Youngsters initially look like mum to make it easier to hide. Their call is a distinctive "kutuk-kutuk".

They are at home on the ground but will roost in trees to keep away from foxes. When not suddenly bursting from cover, they more often run away, looking almost comical. Pheasants usually hang about in small flocks, with the males having a harem of several females who gaze on him adoringly in all his snazzy colours.

Pheasants eat a wide range of food including grains, worms, spiders, green shoots, ants, beetles, and berries. Basically, anything they can find on the ground. They are not fussy eaters.

Their nest is a scrape on the ground which is lined with grass and leaves, frequently under dense cover or under a hedge. The 6-15 pale olive green coloured eggs (usually about 10) hatch after 23 days. The young leave the nest when only a few hours old and can feed themselves. The young Pheasants grow quickly and can fly after 12 days. The youngsters hang about with mum for 2 months while dad stands around looking pretty and not having much to do with them. Mind you, if he has three females that would be 45 youngsters (3x15) to tell bedtime stories to, so you can understand why he stays away.

It is difficult to estimate the 'wild' population of Pheasants as they release so many for shooting. Up to 40 million pheasants (yes, 40 million) are released into the countryside every year. Pheasant farming is a common practice and birds are supplied for hunting and to restaurants. They can only be shot in the shooting season from October to the end of January, but that is probably not much comfort for Mr Pheasant. Never in the history of life has any species faired so well because it was so good at dying. Game keepers protecting their Pheasant chicks has, in the past, led to the killing of birds of prey. This is now banned and birds of prey are protected by law.

Their Latin name is 'phasianus colchicus' were 'phasianus' means 'pheasant' and 'colchicus' means 'of Colchis' as this is where they originally came from. Colchis is now modern day Georgia, a country on the Black Sea.

Redwing

If you listen carefully on a chilly autumn night, you might hear the "tseee" call of migrating Redwings passing overhead. They use this flight call to keep together. The Redwing, like the Fieldfare, is a winter visitor and is the UK's smallest true thrush, arriving in October and leaving in April. They roam across the countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows and are often seen with Fieldfares. You will only get them in gardens in the coldest weather, when snow covers the fields.

The Redwing is smaller than a blackbird. It has dark upper parts, a yellow buff breast with lines of dark spots that look more streaked, a bold head pattern with a strong cream stripe over the eye, and rust red flanks (hence the name). The rust red underwing is visible in flight.

Redwings roost in thick hedges, especially if there are lots of berries. They eat fallen fruit, worms, snails, slugs, and berries - especially hawthorn.

They nest in a tree or low bush. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of grass, twigs, and moss. She incubates the 4-6 eggs for 12 days. Once hatched, the young are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 15 days. Both parents continue to feed the youngsters for a further 2 weeks. Dad often continues feeding the first brood while mum gets on with a second.

About 1 million Redwing visit us in winter, arriving from two different places - Redwing from Scandinavia and slightly larger Redwing from Iceland. The Icelandic birds are mainly found in Scotland and the Scandinavian ones in England. Redwing are very nomadic and will winter in different areas in different years. Similar to the Fieldfare, about 10 pairs a year stay and breed in Northern Scotland.

Their Latin name is 'turdus iliacus' from 'turdus' for 'thrush' and 'ile' meaning 'flank'.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares are nomadic winter visitors that come over from Scandinavia, like a Viking raiding party, to pillage our berries. They arrive in late October and stay for the winter before leaving again in April. A tiny number stay and breed in Scotland.

They are a large thrush of the woodlands and countryside with a chestnut back, dark tail, grey rump, and a grey head with dark streaks on the crown. Bold spots cover their yellowish breast and they have a yellow bill with a dark tip. They have a visible white underwing when flying, which they do with bursts of wing beats followed by a glide. They stand upright when on the ground, usually in groups and often with Redwings, moving about with purposeful hops. Their call is a "chack chack", which is given in flight, so if you hear it they have already dashed off to another tree.

Fieldfares eat insects, berries, and fallen fruit. They love a good windfall apple. Cider is the drink of marauders.

Fieldfares start nesting once they have returned to Scandinavia in May. They nest in trees, making a cup-shaped nest from twigs lined with mud and soft grass. The 6 eggs hatch after 10 days and the youngsters can fly 12 days later though depend on mum and dad for a further month. Fieldfares usually have two broods. They have a neat trick of shooting their poo to deter predators who approach the nest. Just as well they don't nest here then.

The breeding population in Britain is tiny, with only 2-3 pairs - yes that few! However, up to 1 million come here in the winter as visitors. The oldest Fieldfare recorded lived to be 18 years old.

Their Latin name is 'turdus pilaris' where both 'turdus' and 'pilaris' are Latin words for 'thrush'. The English name dates back to at least the eleventh century and is from an Old English word 'feldefare' which is 'traveller through the fields'. Much more romantic than double thrush.

Red-legged Partridge

The Red-legged Partridge is a non-native game bird which was introduced a few hundred years ago in 1673 for posh people to shoot. They like large open fields and generally hang around in groups called convoys (or Partridge patrols). They prefer to scuttle away than fly, which is hilarious to watch.

The Red-legged Partridge lives up to its name with lots of bold colours that make it easy to see down a shotgun barrel. They have plain, grey-brown upperparts and boldly striped brown, black and white sides, a black and white face pattern with a white chin and black throat necklace. The eye, legs and bill are bright red. Their usual call is a repetitive "chuck-chucker" that sounds like a cat being sick.

They fly with a quick whirr of their wings followed by a long glide, holding them curved down. When flying, they often issue an alarm call that sounds a bit like, "Please shoot!", which is rather stupid. Red-legged Partridge feed on seeds, leaves and insects that they find on the ground.

The male Red-legged Partridge makes several nests in late April to attract a female. They are a bit rubbish, being shallow scrapes in the ground lined with vegetation, so he is not the greatest of charmers. The fussy female chooses one and then tidies it up to raise a family. She lays between 10 and 20 eggs, which hatch after 23 days. The youngsters can mainly feed themselves soon after hatching. They are able to fly 15 days later and become adult sized after 60 days (this rapid growth is what makes them so attractive to gamekeepers). The female will often lay a second clutch of eggs in one of the other nests, which the male has to incubate at the same time, so she can keep an eye on him. They will stay together as a family for their first winter.

The Red-legged Partridge is resident in Britain, with an estimated 150,000 breeding pairs. This is confused by the large number of birds that are reared and released for shooting, which can be over 6 million! Their Latin name is 'alectoris rufa' where 'alectoris' is from the Ancient Greek 'alektoris' for 'chicken' and 'rufa' is Latin for 'red'. A bright red chicken, easy to shoot.

Linnet

The Linnet is another poor bird that has suffered dreadfully at the hands of the dastardly Victorians, who liked to put them in cages. Thankfully, they are now protected. The countryside is the true home for the Linnet. They are widespread but incredibly hard to see as they are nervous of people (who can blame them) and will fly off before you are within 100 metres. 

Linnets are smaller than a sparrow with a longish looking forked tail and short bill. The male has a chestnut back, crimson patches on his breast (like he has spilt tomato ketchup on his shirt), and a crimson forehead on a grey head. There is a characteristic light spot on each cheek and small silver flashes along the wings. The female is more streaked and lacks the crimson marks (as she is less of a messy eater). After moulting during July to October, the male looks more like the female. The Linnet's call sounds like a furniture mover saying, "to me, to you" mixed with some electric, buzzing notes. Their flight call is a clipped "ti-dit".

They eat weed seeds and plants like fat-hen, dandelion, chickweed, buttercup, and oilseed rape. Linnets will join flocks of other seed-eaters, like Chaffinches, Bramblings, and Greenfinches, when seeds are plentiful.

Linnets nest from April, usually in a group with other Linnets. The female builds the nest of twigs, roots and moss in dense cover like a hedge. She incubates the 4-6 eggs on her own, which hatch after 11 days. The male is too busy getting the ketchup stains off his shirt. Both parents feed the chicks. The youngsters can fly after 11 days, which is pretty quick, and leaves time to have 2 or 3 broods. Out of the breeding season, Linnets can form large roosts with other finches.

They are partially migratory with some British birds moving south to Spain for tapas in some years and not in others, while other Linnets from Northern Europe migrate here. There are about 500,000 pairs in Britain. Linnet numbers have fallen recently and they are on the conservation 'Red List'. This is thought to be due to changes in farming and the use of herbicides, reducing the amount of weeds for them to feed on.

Their Latin name is 'linaria cannabina' where 'linaria' is the Latin for a linen-weaver, from 'linum' for 'flax' and 'cannabina' for 'hemp'. Aptly named after their love of weed seeds. The English name has a similar root, being derived from the Old French 'linette' for 'flax'.

Cuckoo

We generally welcome the Cuckoo's call as a sign of spring, though I am not sure many little birds are quite as happy about their arrival. They are summer visitors and well-known brood parasites; the females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially Meadow Pipits, Dunnocks and Reed Warblers. Unsurprisingly, Cuckoos are mainly found in the areas where these little birds live: reed beds, moorland, woodland and farmland, and not in built-up city centres. When not here, they hang out in the African forests discussing their dastardly deeds.

The Cuckoo is the size of a pigeon and can look a bit like a Sparrowhawk when flying as it has similar stripes. The upper parts, head and breast are plain blue grey. The under parts are white with black barring. The bill is short and curved. The tail is rounded with a white tip and they hold the wings 'drooped' when perched. The Cuckoo is named after its call, which sounds "Cuck-coo" and is intended to ring out over vast distances. It's sometimes referred to as a stud-post call. It is the male Cuckoo imploring a female to seek him out for a bit of fun at the expense of others.

Cuckoos feed mainly on insects, especially hairy caterpillars which other birds avoid as they taste horrid.

The female Cuckoo finds a victim's nest and, when they are not looking, takes out one of their eggs and puts her own in its place. The female Cuckoo needs secrecy for this to succeed, because if the victim sees her at the nest they become suspicious and closely check their eggs. She glides down to the nest from a hidden lookout perch, removes an egg, lays her own in its place, and is off – all within 10-seconds! Cuckoos can lay eggs that look just like those being replaced, which is a very neat trick. They lay up to 25 eggs in a season which is a lot of poor victims. As she departs, she often gives a chuckle call, as if in triumph. This is perhaps the best trick of all. The chuckle is similar to the rapid call notes of a Sparrowhawk, and it diverts the victim's attention away from noticing that an egg has been swapped.

The young Cuckoo hatches after 12 days and instinctively pushes all the other young and eggs out of the nest so only it is left to be fed. It leaves the nest after 19 days and demands to be fed for a further 3 weeks before making its way back to Africa.

About 15,000 pairs visit Britain from April to August. They are widespread but thinly scattered. The Cuckoo is declining partly due to difficulties on their migration route and partly due to the lack of caterpillars caused by changes in agriculture. They are incredible travellers. A young Cuckoo, having been raised on its own in the nest of another bird, will find its way unaided back to central Africa. Most Cuckoos leave us in July and initially fly across to Southern Europe. They then feed up before the next step of their journey, a gruelling 3,000km (1,875 miles) crossing of the Mediterranean and the Sahara. A lot don't make it. Their population decline has made them a Red List species.

Their Latin name is 'cuculus canorus' where 'cuculus' is Latin for 'cuckoo' and 'canorus' means 'to sing'. Calculating conman would be better. From cuckoo, we get 'cuckold' which is someone tricked into bringing up a child that is not their own.

Green Woodpecker

If you hear the laughing 'yaffle' of a Green Woodpecker, you are too late. It has already flown off like a green torpedo. The place to look for them is hopping about on the ground at the edge of trees as they feed on the ground and don't actually peck wood much except when making their nest holes.

The Green Woodpecker is the size of a pigeon and is the largest of the British Woodpeckers. It has a dark green back, paler green underparts with a bright yellow-green rump. On their head they have a bright red crown, a black moustache, and black round the eyes. They climb trees in a series of jerks using their stiff tail feathers against the trunk for support - but you will be lucky seeing them as they are superb at making sure the tree is between you and them. Their call is a laughing "kyoo kyoo kyoo", as they taunt you to find them. You would think a bird with a bright red head would be easy to see, but their green coats blend in well with the ground and they can look like a distant red flower. They have a comical flight, closing their wings after 3 or 4 flaps to look like a tubby green undulating torpedo.

The Green Woodpecker is an ant eating specialist and has a very long sticky tongue (good for blowing raspberries) to extract ants and their eggs from the nest chambers below the ground. They will eat other insects, but ants are their favourites, giving them a distinctive poo that looks like ash from a cigarette and contains the remains of hundreds of ant bodies.

Although Green Woodpeckers can pair for life, they are antisocial outside the breeding season and spend most of the year living alone doing standup comedy. The two halves of a pair may roost near to each other during the winter, but they won't re-establish their pair bond until March. This is achieved through the use of loud calls, and a period of courtship. The 5-6 eggs are laid between March and June in a nest hole within a suitable tree trunk such as oak, ash or birch. Both parents incubate the eggs, which hatch after 17 days. The youngsters are then fed by mum and dad and can fly 23 days later. The youngsters carry on being fed by their parents for a further 7 weeks before finally becoming fully independent.

There are 50,000 pairs in Britain and not a single one in Ireland (as there are enough comedians over there already). They live in woodland, small copses, orchards, farmland and parks, and don't move far from where they were born. Preservation of old mature woods and meadows is extremely important for their survival.

Their Latin name is 'picus viridis' where 'picus' is Latin for 'woodpecker' and 'viridis' means 'green'.

Swallow

They are the Red Arrows of the fields with their red, white, and blue markings. To think they have been on safari in Africa with elephants and giraffes before coming here is awesome. Hearing their happy, chatty, twittering call not only lifts your spirits but heralds that summer is on the way. They are birds of open rural countryside - rare in urban spaces.

The Swallow is a sleek, slender bird with a deeply forked tail. They have a dark blue back, off-white underparts, a deep red face, and blue-black chest band. Their tails have long thin streamers whose length depends on their age and nobility. The tail has white spots underneath that are sometimes visible in flight. The wings are long and pointed. They love flying low over fields and water. When perched on branches, wires or TV aerials, they are very chatty with a liquid, happy, twittering call.

Swallows feed almost exclusively on flying insects like bluebottles, house flies, bees, hover flies, mayflies, flying ants, and moths which they catch on the wing. They have two foveae in each eye, giving them sharp lateral and frontal vision to help track their prey, and strong jaws with a wide gape to catch them. In poor weather, they will feed more over lakes and reservoirs. Their moult (feather change) is slow so it doesn't interfere with the ability to fly and catch insects.

Nesting starts from April, in barns or outhouses. The nest is a cup built from mud and lined with feathers and grass. Previous years' nests are often reused and the same pair of Swallows will return to the same site year after year. The 3-6 eggs hatch after 15 days. The young Swallows fly after 20 days and are fed for a further week. A brood of young Swallows needs about 6000 flies a day to survive. There are usually two broods and sometimes three. That is a lot of flies to catch! Farmers' use of insecticides to kill insects on their fields had a devastating impact on Swallows, but now many of these chemicals are banned and the Swallow population is stable. The loss of old buildings where they can nest is also a big worry, so put up a Swallow box!

The Swallow is a summer migrant, arriving in April and going by October. They migrate by day, feeding as they fly (most other birds feed during daytime and migrate at night). It takes about 6 weeks to get to Africa and about 4 weeks to get back. They often travel in tour groups with House Martins. In ancient times, when Swallows disappeared in winter, people thought they hid at the bottom of lakes.

There are 800,000 pairs in Britain. Their Latin name is 'hirundo rustica' where 'hirundo' is the Latin word for 'swallow' and 'rusticus' means 'of the country'. Americans call them Barn Swallows.