Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Garden Birds and Great Apes

Like many thousands of people throughout Britain I have been keeping an eye on our garden birds. The usual visitors have been present: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing (1), Jackdaw, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Blackcap (1). Of equal interest - and greater concern - are the missing species. There have been no Starlings, no Song Thrushes, no Greenfinches, no House Sparrows - and the Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, normally resident in our garden, has failed to put in an appearance.  All rather worrying. I eye our local cats with increasing suspicion.

I have included the Latin name for the Wren because, as I began today's blog I recalled a curious fact. The first person to give a Latin name to the Common Chimpanzee was the great French naturalist Etienne Geoffroy St Hilaire - generally (and unsurprisingly) referred to simply as Geoffroy - who, in 1812, called it Troglodytes niger. It was then pointed out to him that the generic name of Troglodytes could not be used as it had already been applied to the Wren. The Common Chimpanzee is now Pan troglodytes.

All this caused consternation for an up-and-coming dance troupe called Troglodytes' People and they were forced to hurriedly relaunch themselves as Pan's People. (Tony, you have been warned before about silliness...)

On a more serious note, cold may not be a serious problem for Wrens as they are known to indulge in "communal roosting" when individuals, often from a considerable distance, will converge on a suitable site such as an old squirrel drey and pack themselves in for mutual warmth. A nestbox (11x14x15cm) has been known to contain 61 Wrens, tightly packed with their heads pointed inwards. (quoted by Robert Burton, British Wildlife Vol 21. Number 3, p. 159). A bird knowing of a suitable site will call in other birds from the neighbourhood to share the roost and help in the fight for survival.


  1. I was in Daventry this afternoon watching an enormous flock of birds swooping and dancing in formation across the sky. Would that be where all the starlings have gone?

  2. Hi Lynda,

    A few months ago a consultant at Danetre hospital was remarking on the huge flocks of starlings that gathered over the town. No doubt that was what you were witnessing.