Life in a Burngreave garden

Winter thrushes illustration

Story and photos by Penny Philcox

I think everyone recognises the robin, and they will be appearing on many seasonal cards again this year. Robins are one of our only birds that sing all year round, because they try to hold and defend their patch of ground, or territory, all winter.

Some scientists in Bristol have now discovered that robins can only sing on a winters day if they have had enough food to get them through the cold night and have some energy to spare. On really cold nights their fat reserves get too low to sing but if we put food out for them, that makes it more likely we will hear their lovely song every day.

Other birds to look out for over winter are members of the thrush family that migrate here from Scandinavia, Iceland and mainland Europe. I’ve drawn the redwing and the slightly larger fieldfare which usually appear in small flocks, to feast on winter berries.

If you haven’t got a winter berry tree in your garden, keep a look out in the local parks, streets (Firshill Crescent has some) and if you shop at a supermarket you can often see them in the trees in car-parks. If you have a garden or outside space, it helps blackbirds, native thrushes and the winter thrushes, as well as wrens, to leave your leaves in the garden.

Birds that need insects to survive winter can usually scrabble about, turning over leaf-litter to find them. The leaves create a little microclimate that stays warm longer than bare soil.

A waxwing

The very special bird that arrives some winters, when the food supplies are scarce in Russia and Scandinavia is the waxwing (see photo). They visit Burngreave sometimes but the place you are most likely to be able to watch them feeding is along Cemetery Avenue, off Ecclesall Road. I will be keeping an eye open for their appearance and will put a note on the Pitsmoor Ladies Page if they turn up, as they are really worth seeing.