Introduction to birds

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Birds are so fascinating to watch because they occur in so many different forms, reflecting the range of different habitats they occupy. Their practice of migrating to find the best conditions for breeding or wintering adds an extra dimension, because a different range of species can be seen at different times of the year. In Essex the greatest spectacle can be found along the coast in winter, when literally hundreds of thousands of birds arrive to take advantage of our mild climate. Brent goose, for example, arrive in their thousands from their breeding grounds in the far north, as do curlew and many other waders.

In spring the process is reversed, with many birds coming here for the summer to breed, mainly from Africa. Our woods in particular fill with song and with activity as nightingales, blackcaps and many other species set up home, lay eggs and begin to raise their young.

The most familiar birds of all are the residents like robins and blackbirds that frequent our gardens throughout the year, often attracted by the 'free' food and ready made nest sites that many people provide for them.

The picture elsewhere in our countryside is not so good, with many farmland birds in particular in severe decline. Once widespread birds like grey partridge and turtle dove, for example, are down to one quarter or less of their former numbers. The evidence suggests that it is the sheer efficiency of modern farming that is the main culprit, eliminating the nest sites, plants and insects on which wild birds depend for their survival.

© Ken King

More information

Mitchell Beazley's 'Birdwatchers' Pocket Guide' is the classic first field guide, compact and easy to use. There are many other field guides that are well illustrated and with a wealth of detail about bird behaviour.