Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.
This week, it is DUNNOCK, STARLING & WREN.
This week we look at three birds which should already be on your year list, one week into January! All three are, despite reports of huge declines, particularly for Starlings, among our commonest bird species. And all are very widely distributed across the country.
They are all oddities among British birds, being the sole members of their respective families which breed here (or are regular British birds). Dunnocks belong to the accentor family (Prunellidae), the only family which is only found in the Palearctic biogeographical region (now go and impress your friends with this information!). The Starling is part of the old world starling and mynah family and the Wren is the only member of the wren family to have escaped the confines of the New World.
The perky little Dunnock, which has been called the Hedgesparrow or even more weirdly, the Hedge Accentor, is shaped a bit like a Robin or a large, robust warbler, complete with thin bill. But it is wrapped in sparrow’s clothing, being essentially brown and grey. Dunnocks are familiar garden birds, but also occur in parks, woodland edges, hedgerows and so on. They are not particularly shy birds, and can usually be seen hopping around on the ground feeding, or perched in a bush, singing or calling. They spend an inordinate amount of time chasing each other around flicking their wings and pecking at their cloacas…
Get them on your#my200birdyear list, early, then relax and enjoy their antics throughout the rest of the year.
Starlings used to have a reputation for being bird table bully boys. Now, after some well-publicised population declines, they are starting to be appreciated for what they are: beautiful and fascinating birds, which are masters of song, perhaps more so than any other British bird. It is still a common garden bird, and is also renowned for the winter pre-roosting manoeuvres, known as murmurations. #my200birdyear is not only about ticking off a list, it is about getting out to enjoy birds at their best. Why not find a murmuration site near you and enjoying one of the most amazing spectacles of the British winter.
An absurd proportion of the General Public believe that the UK’s smallest bird is the Wren. You, of course, know that the Goldcrest (and its scarce relative, the Firecrest) are half an inch shorter. Those same members of the public probably will tell you that sparrows are our commonest birds. But, curiously, as you may also know, the tiny Wren is our most abundant bird.
Once you know the loud song and the chattering call you can start to appreciate just how many Wrens are out and about in our country, filling woodland and garden alike with their explosive racket. But seeing them is another matter; most birdwatchers hear far more Wrens than they see. They are indeed tiny, but also a bit shy and sneak around within the undergrowth or within bushes, making a vocal fuss but not showing themselves much.
Still, you can put them on your list whenever, as there are lots of Wrens out there.
If you want one further snippet to impress your friends, it is that there in fact five subspecies of Wren which are endemic to the British Isles (ie found nowhere else). These include the British mainland version, but also distinctive forms on St Kilda, Shetland, Fair Isle and the Hebrides. If you want, you could always visit these islands and add the unique subspecies to your #my200birdyear list for a bit of one-upmanship.
All photos from Alamy