Since the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, I have been completely obsessed by birds. I’ve bought a birdbath, a feeding station, a nesting box, fat-balls, niger seeds, mealworms, sunflower seeds, peanuts and every sort of seed-mix going. Every morning I put out a spread worthy of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. I get more excited by the birds’ breakfast than my own.
And it’s not just me. Stephen has placed binoculars and a field-guide by the window. We’ve got a shared note on our smartphones so that we can mark down any new sightings. Over breakfast this morning the whole family discussed how you distinguish a great tit from a coal tit. I think we’re all a little hazy about this. If anyone out there can help, please leave instructions in the comments below. My theory is that if you want to exclaim “my word, what a handsome fellow!” in an Enid Blyton sort of voice, it’s a great tit. Am I right?
This morning we had not one, but two greater spotted woodpeckers at our table! And nine goldfinches squabbling over the niger seed. The goldfinches seem to be the peaky blinders of the garden birds. You don’t want to mess with them.
So familiar am I becoming with my little posse, my squad, my clan, that I am tempted to give them nicknames. This desire was sparked by a human tweet about my favourite bird, the long-tailed tit. The local names for these delightful little dumplings are: ‘flying teaspoons’, ‘lollipops’, ‘mumruffins’, ‘bumbarrels’, or (my favourite) ‘pudding bags’. Such is my affection for the long-tailed tit that I want to make up a few names of my own. I might add ‘badger-face’, ‘dirty snowballs’, ‘bouncing bombs’, ‘pompoms’ and ‘skittles’. Of course the true test of a nickname is when others start to use it. Already I have heard my youngest call to me “mum! The teaspoons are here!”
I have been researching folk names for other garden birds, and there is endless delight in this. It is as much fun as common flower names.
Magpies were once ‘maggoty-pies’. Jays were ‘devil’s scritch’. Blackbirds could be ‘black brides’ (bit of heavy-metal influence here), ‘black ouzels’ (from the West Country?) or simply ‘merles’. Naughty chaffinches can be ‘apple-sheilers’ (for stealing apple buds), ‘flackies’ or ‘boldies’. Goldfinches are ‘thistle-tweakers’ (I knew it!) and ‘Jack nickers’ (ooh). They can also be ‘sweet williams’, but I haven’t seen any evidence of this so far.
Poor old Jenny wren is (cruelly) ‘stumpy toddy’. Greenfinches are ‘bigheads’. The mistle thrush can be ‘bell throstle’ or… ‘Mavis‘.
Blue tits can be (more accurately) blue caps, blue bonnets, blue spicks, nuns (love this), tree babblers, pinchems (love this too), pickcheese (and this), yaups, billy biters and heckymals.
I don’t know what a fieldfare is yet, but when I do, I will try to verify if it looks like a ‘spinning wheel’. Our woodpeckers are ‘little woodpie’ and ‘Yaffle’ (from Bagpuss fame).
I can only find one other name for the great tit, and that is ‘black-capped lolly’, which doesn’t help at all. He should surely be tagged a ‘swell’, a ‘toff’, a ‘dandy’, a ‘dapper chap’? Or maybe ‘Brylcream’? ‘Necktie?’ ‘Canary waistcoat?’ Please, someone, help me out here, how, for the love of God, can I tell the great tit apart from the coal tit? (Again, answers below in ‘comments’, please).
Has anyone else discovered bird-love this winter? Honestly, it is a brilliant substitution for tulip-, peony-, rose- and dahlia-love. Share your favourite birds and bird-names below!