What’s the point of Woodpigeons? What do they do? What are they for? The UK breeding population increased by 169% between 1967-2010 (Bird Atlas 2007-11, Balmer et al) probably because of agricultural intensification and boosted by the move to winter oilseed rape and winter cereals from the late 1970’s. The UK population is estimated at 5.4 million pairs and its abundance is probably because of the birds’ ability to survive on green vegetation unlike other granivores (BTO Birdtrends 2014)
More recently Woodpigeons have become dominant garden birds (RSPB Garden Birdwatches) probably as countryside habitats become “full” of resident birds. Despite this their breeding biology and ecology are poorly studied.
Woodpigeons nesting in
Dorchester town centre
Collared Dove right
A maize stubble field in the north of our study area attracted a flock of 1,480 (counted from photographs) in winter 2015/16. UK birds are almost entirely resident but Woodpigeons in northern Europe do migrate and movements of autumn birds have been noted on the north Norfolk coast. Woodpigeons to birdwatchers are an irritating fact of life! Lone birds can resemble Sparrow Hawks and distant flocks can look like Golden Plovers.
Stock Doves (or Stock Pigeons) are smaller discrete versions of the clattering, bulky Woodpigeon and lack the white wing and white neck patches. They are usually seen singly or in pairs but, unusually, a flock of c100 were feeding on Oil seed Rape stubble from harvest 2016 awaiting spring barley 2017 drilling in the north of our project area.
Feral pigeons: escaped homers, urban vandals, building defacers – these general nuisance birds are thought to derive from wild Rock Doves which are now confined to rocky northern and western cliffs on the very margins of the UK.
These feral birds should now be controlled by urban Peregrines. Cambridge has its own nesting Peregrines (see below); London has 26-30 breeding pairs – the second highest urban Peregrine population in the world behind New York.
Hopefully Peregrines will breed again in the City this year; the female is more strongly barred and bigger than the male by about an additional 1/3rd; they have been seen mating.
Male Peregrine (above)
Female Peregrine (right)
Corvids – the crows – are also unloved (see March blog). The local newspaper in Royston, Hertfordshire is the “Royston Crow” but the crow on the paper’s logo is not the corvid we are familiar with – it’s a Hooded Crow. Hooded Crows used to be considered conspecific with the Carrion Crow but have been granted species status. They used to be frequent winter visitors in flocks of 30+ in Cambridgeshire but are now exceptionally rare – 1 or 2 per year in Norfolk and occasional single strays into the north of Cambs.
Hooded Crows replace Carrion Crows in Ireland and central to northern Scotland and are the common crow in much of Fennoscandinavia and central Europe. Milder winters have probably resulted in these birds remaining resident with little need to move south or west, to the UK, to avoid freezing conditions.
A scruffy Hooded Crow!
The Rook survey in our NatHistCam project area is now 108 (apparently) active nests. Rather like House Sparrows the biggest numbers are in the Cherry Hinton area.
Another corvid is the Jay. This woodland species is a resident and predator of nests and nestlings and eater of slugs and snails. In Chesterton, breeding birds are summer visitors and the first arrived back on March 17th.
May 2017 Bob Jarman