Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough



Carduelis carduelis

This finch is a real treat to observe in the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also has a gentle lilting song. Young goldfinches have the golden wing patches but their heads are a kind of tawny grey, lacking the stunning black, white and red of the adults.


Using their long fine beaks they feed on seeds from thistles and teasels. They will also eat insects. The finch in the photo is feeding on nyjer seed in a feeder specifically designed for goldfinches.


Goldfinches belong to the family Fringillidae. They are quite common and can be seen all year round. Investing in a feeder may attract them but it depends on the surrounding environment. They like parks, heathland and commons that have plenty of bushes and trees.


Length: 13cm

Blue tit

Cyanistes caeruleus

Belonging to the family Paridae, blue tits are familiar garden birds in Britain and are widespread in the UK throughout the year. They are easy to observe and in April 2014, I observed a pair of blue tits that had stated started taking an interest in one of my nest boxes.


They had a clutch of youngsters and by the end of May the chicks had fledged so I removed the nest from the box. It was made of moss, grass and hair cuttings and was very clean with no droppings.

Sadly this egg was unsuccessful and still born


Winter blue tit numbers peak at around 15 million and the UK breeding population is estimated at 1,600,000 territories

Sexes appear similar.


Length: 11cm


Great tit

Parus major

Great tits are passerines of the family Paridae. They are the most widespread of the tit family and are common throughout Europe, central and northern Asia, and some parts of northern Africa. The great tit is mostly insectivorous in the summer, but will eat a wide range of food in the winter months. They live in a variety of habitats the most common being deciduous woodland, forest edges and gardens. It is not normally migratory but may move south in harsher winters.

An adult great tit with two young


Great tits usually nest in a hole in a tree or a nest box so long as it is well positioned. The female lays a clutch of about 12 eggs and incubates them alone while the male bring food to her. Usually there are two broods in a year. As with blue tits both parents share the feeding of the fledglings.


Length: up to 14cm (5½in)


Troglodytes troglodytes

A wren feeding one of its young


The wren is a tiny dumpy brown bird. For its size it has quite long legs and toes. Its wings are very short and rounded and has a narrow tail which is usually cocked up. It has a remarkably loud repetitive song which seems to be a proclamation of territory as well as to attract a mate.


Wren are found across Britain in a wide variety of habitats and is a regular visitor to most gardens. It has a fine bill in common with other insectivores and indeed its preferred diet is insects and spiders. It is the commonest UK breeding bird with an estimated 8,600,000 territories, although it suffers declines during prolonged cold winters. Wrens have two broods each season which is April-July, consisting of 5 or 6 eggs.


Length: 10cm; weight: 12g


Erithacus rubecula

Often regarded as Britain’s favourite bird, the robin is very familiar throughout the year especially in parks and gardens. Males and females are similar having brown upperparts and a chestnut orange breast. Young birds have no red breast and are speckled with golden brown. Robins sing nearly all year round and despite their apparent friendliness to humans, they are aggressively territorial.


The breeding season is April-August and robins will usually have two broods of 4-6 eggs. Incubation is by the female only and takes about 13 days. The chicks hatch naked, and are totally dependent on their parents for food and warmth. Both parents now look after the nestlings. The chicks fledge at 14 days but will not be able to fly for another couple of days. The UK breeding population is estimated at 6,700,000 territories. Robins eat worms, seeds, fruit and insects.


I have an open-fronted nest box hidden in ivy on my back fence which has been used successfully in the past.


Length: 14cm; weight 22g, nearly twice that of a wren.

An immature robin


Sturnus vulgaris

An adult with an immature starling


Although starlings are still familiar in gardens, their numbers have been in decline in some other habitats across Britain. With the onset of autumn starling numbers are boosted by visitors from Eastern Europe. A flock of starlings is known as a murmuration and these huge numbers swirl spectacularly and confusingly. They then may gather on power lines before roosting in shrubs and trees.


Starlings eat insects and fruit. They will squabble noisily over garden scraps while smaller birds such as sparrows quietly steal the food from under their beaks. The UK breeding population is estimated at over 800,000 territories.


Length: 21cm; wingspan: 40cm

House sparrow

Passer domesticus

Male house sparrow


House sparrows are noisy and gregarious and very familiar in gardens taking scraps. Their natural food is seeds. House sparrows are widely distributed even throughout most of the world but parts of Britain have seen a serious decline. Between 1977 and 2008, the UK saw an estimated drop of 71%.


The main nesting season is from April to August and two or three clutches of 2-5 eggs are laid. Both sexes incubate, and the chicks hatch after 11-14 days. Chicks are brooded for 6-8 days and are fed on a variety of invertebrates such as aphids, caterpillars, beetles and grasshoppers. The young fledge 14-16 days after hatching. They are unable to feed themselves for about a week after leaving the nest and are cared for by their parents for around a fortnight.


House sparrows are present all year round and the UK population is estimated at 5,300,000 pairs.


Length: 14cm; wingspan: 20cm

Female house sparrow

When to put food out for birds

Adult blue tits feed on seeds, nuts and insects but seeds and nuts are indigestible to chicks and fledglings so some people are under the mistaken idea that we should stop feeding birds in springtime.


In May 2014 I conducted my own study on the pair of blue tits mentioned earlier with particular interest in their visits to and from the nest box to feed their young.


The rate of feeding by both adults combined varied from about 30 to 40 visits per minute. Each time they left the bird box to gather food they would visit the peanut feeder first to keep their own energy high. Then they go to the trees beyond my back fence to forage for insects to take back to the nest to feed their young. They never took nuts back to the nest.


The length of time that the nest box was left by both adults was between 1min 20sec to 1min 40sec so each bird had about 2min 40sec to 3min 20sec away from the nest. The synchronisation of the adult’s visits was very good. The answer is if you enjoy feeding garden birds go ahead, the birds know instinctively what to feed their young.

Nyjer seed for goldfinches, use a special nyjer seed feeder

Peanuts for blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits greenfinches and other small birds

Mixed seeds for a variety of small birds

Orphaned birds

Sometimes during the spring and early summer, partly developed fledglings may be found outside the nest with no apparent adult support. It is best not to directly intervene but to monitor the situation and try to protect it from predators until it is hopefully reunited with its parents.


My garden is enclosed and I once had a fledgling blue tit that couldn’t escape. I could hear a party of blue tits approaching along a line of trees beyond the back of my garden. Small birds such as blue tits will instinctively feed fledglings whether they are family or not so I caught the fledgling and placed it in the ivy at the top of my back fence. I have no idea of the fledgling’s fate but I do know that I gave it the best possible chance of survival that I could.

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