Animals, Birds, Megan, Wildlife

Often kept in captivity in the 19th century due to their bright colouring that attracted a great deal of human attention, the goldfinch is thought of as one of Britain’s most attractive wild birds. To find out everything you need to know about goldfinches, as well as how to attract more to your garden, read on.

Goldfinch perching on branch

What Do Goldfinches Look Like?

The goldfinch is a vibrant and uniquely coloured wild bird, making it easy to spot in your garden. It has a black and white head with a red face. The body is buff to chestnut brown, with black and yellow patches on the wings. Males and females are very similar in appearance, with the female having a slightly smaller red patch on its face.

Two Juvenile Goldfinches
Two juvenile goldfinches

Juveniles have different colouring from adult birds. They have a plain face rather than a red face and a grey body. However, they still have the unmistakable black and yellow wing stripes.

Are There Different Species of Goldfinch?

The European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, is a species of bird from the genus Carduelis, part of the finch Fringillidae  family. The species is not to be confused with the American goldfinch, which is part of a different genus. There are 12 species of finch which inhabit the UK, including the chaffinch which we will cover further on in this blog series.

Goldfinch opening it's wings

There are 14 different subspecies of the European goldfinch. The subspecies found in the British Isles is the C. c. britannica.

Where & When Will I See Goldfinches?

Goldfinches are more abundant to the southern England, although are found throughout the UK aside from parts of the very northern parts of Scotland. The birds can be spotted all year round, however some flocks may migrate south during the colder winter months.

Goldfinch on tree

Orchards, gardens and heathlands are just some of the environments goldfinches will inhabit. More generally, they will be present wherever there is rough thistled ground and scattered bushes.

When Do Goldfinches Breed?

Goldfinches breed later than most wild birds; breeding begins in late April and continues until August, but can go on until September if it is still mild. On average, goldfinches attempt 2 or 3 broods, with clutch size spanning from 3 to 7 chicks. Males and females share parenting duties throughout this time.

Goldfinch perched alongside flowers

The male goldfinch attracts a mate by putting on a unique display, involving characteristic mating calls and swaying from side to side. After attracting a mate, nesting will start. The female takes on the role of building the nest, which will usually be sited in a tree or shrub. Nesting materials include grass, mud and roots and the nest will be lined with softer materials such as moss and cobwebs to insulate. The outside of their nest is often adorned with lichen in order to camouflage it from predators.

Eggs are pale blue and lightly speckled. Once laid, they will be continuously incubated for 10 to 14 days by the female. Once hatched, the chicks will be fed regurgitated seeds and plants by both parents. They will fly the nest after about 15 days.

What Do Goldfinches Eat?

Goldfinches mainly feed on seeds, and are especially fond of nyjer. If you want to put out nyjer seeds in your garden, ensure you buy a feeder specially designed for these smaller seeds, as they will fall out of regular seed feeders. Sunflower hearts are also a favourite.

Feeding goldfinches

Goldfinches also feed off seeds of small plants, such as dandelions and groundsel. The long, slim shape of their beak also makes them experts at feeding on thistle. Planting teasel, which has an attractive pink flower that is also appealing to bees and butterflies, will provide an extra source of food for goldfinches too.

As they eat mainly seeds, goldfinches need to drink more water than other species of wild birds. Ensure you provide a fresh water source, such as a bird bath or water feature. If you have a cascading waterfall in your garden, don’t be surprised to see goldfinches enthusiastically bathing in it!

Be sure to stay tuned for the next instalment of this series, where we will take a look at starlings. If you missed the last in the series, be sure to check it out, as we examined the collared dove which is a lesser known species of garden bird.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Charlotte O, How To

Folks, meet my family’s chickens.

They have been living in our garden for almost a year now, and have slowly destroyed everything in it. But they have supplied some delicious eggs and some rather hilarious entertainment over the last 9 months. So allow me to welcome you into:

A Very Brief Guide to Keeping Chickens in Your Garden

This chicken-y garden will not be the blog entry of your Instagram or pinterest dreams, this is about getting down and messy and back to the earth with your feathery pals. And feathery pals are what they’ll be! As soon as they learn to associate you with food, you’ll be their favourite human.

Procuring your Feathery Friends

It’s always recommended to keep chickens in at least pairs, chickens are social creatures and used to living in a flock. 2-3 chickens is a good number to start at, but if you have a large amount of space and are craving that eggy goodness then 4-5 is certainly acceptable.

So you’ve decided the number, but where can you get these chickens? The local pet shop sure doesn’t sell them, so let’s review our options:

  • Local farmers may be selling fertilised eggs, fancy growing your brood from scratch?
  • Time to google, local selling sites may be advertising hens who are already laying
  • The highly recommended: Adopt hens that are due to be slaughtered

All of these are viable methods, and in my house it was a close toss-up between raising our own chickens, or sourcing hens that were already laying. Luckily we found a farmer who was part of a hen-rescue team who was expecting a shipment of chickens, and so we travelled to an eccentric farm and I bashed my head on a beam trying to grab the chicken my Mum specifically wanted. (It was Ginger, she’s been wary of me ever since.) 5 chickens for £20 was a pretty good deal, and I got to fuss the farm dogs and grumpy horse while I was there.

Our sweet chickies were due to be slaughtered because they stop laying at optimal numbers after 18 months of life, and it’s more cost effective for farmers to get rid of them and bring younger ones in. But ex-battery/barn hens will still produce 1 egg every day-and-a-half-ish. They may be fragile to begin with, as most of them won’t have seen the sun before, but time is a healer, and those feathers will grow back.

If you’re interested in adopting, I’d recommend checking out the British Hen Welfare Trust, which operates around the UK.

Coops and Runs

Our chickens are living in the proverbial lap of luxury when it comes to housing, they have a converted shed and 2 large runs that used to house rabbits. But you don’t need a custom built enclosure for your chooks to be happy. A quick google will show you the vast sea of options for keeping your chickens housed. Although one thing to remember is the number they give for the upper limit of hens is probably going to be too tight, so if they advertise that a coop will fit up to 5 hens, don’t shove more than 4 in there. Make sure the coop is well ventilated, has perches that are comfortable for your hens to rest on, and has an adequate nesting area. Check out this page for more information.

We use plastic containers as nesting boxes, make sure there’s a good layer of hay in them!

If you’re handy with hammer and nail you can look into building your own run for your chooks. It will certainly take time, but you’ll save money in the process. Our structures have been holding for years now, lovingly crafted from left over timber and a whole lot of chicken wire.

(No judgements, please. This is the chicken’s domain now, it is mostly mud.)

Make sure your chickens have enough space to run around during the day, and that that space is protected from predators if you’re leaving them out when no one is around to keep an eye on them.

Diet

Your hens should also be fed pellets or meal to keep them in tippy-top condition, and it should always be available to them to snack on. You can also supplement it with grain or corn, but it’s recommended not to mix this with the pellets, as they’ll just pick it out and fill themselves up on it. Basically they’re like feathery toddlers, picking the little chocolate chunks out of their favourite cereal then complaining they’re hungry an hour later.

Chickens gain about a quarter of the protein they need in a day by foraging for grass and insects, you can also feed them kitchen scraps to add variety to their diet. No meat, but leftover cooked rice and pasta as well as vegetables and fruit can be given as treats. But be warned that family members might start to claim leftovers for the chickens without telling you. (I’m looking at you, Mum, who fed the chickens that leftover rice I had eyed up for lunch.)

Water is very important for the production of your hens eggs, those delicious ovals are made up of 65% water! So remember to top up water daily, and keep an eye out for how dirty the water gets. Chickens care not for where they foul or where they tread, and as soon as the water gets dirty, they won’t drink it. This can be remedied by elevating the waterer off the ground, hang it up or put a sturdy plant pot underneath to get it off the floor. During the coldest months make sure to break any ice on top that might stop your hens from having a drink.

Our chickens also get a bowl of porridge on cold winter mornings because every animal in our house is spoilt beyond compare. You certainly don’t need to do this, but seeing them throw porridge around is a hilarious way to start your morning.

If you want to read more on proper diet for your hens, check out this link.

Routine and Care

Your tiny raptor buddies shouldn’t take up much of your time if your care routine is sensible. At the very least they need letting out of their coop in the morning into the run, with any eggs collected, and then putting away in the evening. Although after settling in they should put themselves away when it gets dark. Obviously, with any animal, the longer you spend in their company and get to know them, the more relaxed they will become around you. Food helps accelerate this, and certainly helped our flock to become comfortable around us at the beginning.

They will also need cleaning out, of course. It’s recommended to clean under the perches every few days, as they do a whole lot of pooping overnight, and then clean their coop every week.

Or, here’s a fun new method that requires a whole lot less cleaning, it’s called the Deep Litter Method, and works like treating the floor of your chicken coop as a big ol’ composter. You lay down a good layer of pine shavings, and then cover over with straw or hay. A couple of times a week turn it all over to check the condition of the composting, and adjust accordingly, adding more hay or straw as you go to build up layers. Your chicks will help if you throw some food down, encouraging them to scratch and turn over the compost. Read up more on this method here.

And that’s a very brief guide on keeping chickens! If it piqued your interest, I highly recommend following through on the links littered throughout. They go into much more detail on each area. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more chicken related posts, even if it’s just to show off my feathery ladies.

Charlotte at PrimroseCharlotte is a Copy Writer at Primrose, writing product descriptions and about anything else that comes her way. She owns 2 rabbits and 5 chickens that she loves very much. (Her garden is most certainly not tidy).

When not at her desk you can find her attempting to find her way back to Japan again, or drawing.

See all of Charlotte’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Megan, Wildlife

In the February instalment of our blog series on garden birds, we will be taking a look at the Eurasian collared dove. A frequent visitor to many gardens, collared doves are found throughout the UK after the species spread rapidly northwards from the middle east from the 1950s onwards. To find out everything you need to know about this common British garden bird, read on.

Collared Dove Perching

Are Collared Doves Just White Pigeons?

When one thinks of pigeons, what comes to mind are the large grey birds you see picking at discarded food on the street. These are, in fact, feral pigeons. Collared doves, (which we are examining here) and feral pigeons are both from the Columbidae bird family. This family consists of 310 different bird species, characterised by stout bodies and short necks.

Collared Dove

Referring to the more general terms, the words “dove” and “pigeon” do not exist in most languages, and dove and pigeon are often used interchangeably in English. Pigeon is a French word that derives from the Latin pipio, for a “peeping” chick, while dove is a Germanic word that refers to the bird’s diving flight. In terms of identification in ornithology, doves refer to smaller species, and pigeons to larger ones.

What Do Collared Doves Look Like?

Collared doves are pale grey-buff to pinky-brown in colour, with a characteristic black neck collar (as their name suggests). In juveniles this collar is less distinct. Their eyes appear to be black, but up close the iris is red in adults and brown in juveniles. There no visible difference between the male and female.

Collared Dove

The Eurasian collared dove forms part of a superspecies of collared doves along with the island collared dove of southeast Asia and the African collared dove of sub-Saharan Africa.

Where & When Will I See Collared Doves?

Collared doves are non-migratory birds, so you will see them in Britain all year round. They are often found around towns and villages and are frequent visitors to gardens. Non-native to the UK, the collared dove arrived in Norfolk in the 1950s. Since then it  has naturally spread itself throughout Britain, rather than being manually introduced. This is down to juveniles dispersing far and wide from where they are born.

Bird Feeder on Tree

When Do Collared Doves Breed?

For collared doves, breeding begins as early as February and continues until as late as October. On average, collared doves lay about 4 clutches a year consisting of 1 or 2 eggs. Males and females share parenting duties throughout this time.

After attracting a mate, the male collared doves shows the female potential nesting sites, giving a distinctive monotonous call at each one to seek approval. Sites will be high above the ground, and in most cases close to inhabited buildings where food sources are abundant.

Collared Dove Pair on Branch

Once a nesting site is chosen, the male will bring the female twigs, grasses and roots to build a nest. The nest is a simple platform, that will be built over 1 to 3 days. Other nesting materials may include feathers, wool and string and the nest may be renovated for subsequent broods during the breeding season.

Eggs are a simple white, and once laid the female will incubate during daylight hours, allowing the male to incubate overnight. The incubating process continues for 14-18 days before fledglings hatch. Collared doves are one of the few birds that product ‘crop milk’, which is a substance produced in the crop, where food is stored in the body. The ‘milk’ is then regurgitated and fed to the fledglings.

What Do Collared Doves Eat?

Collared doves are herbivores, and their diet consists mainly of seeds and grains. They will also feed on buds, shoots and berries. Dependence on seeds and grains are one of the reasons the collared doves nest so close to areas inhabited by humans. The birds are not fussy about what seed or grain they eat. Doves digest the husks rather than removing them so there is no need to pick a husk-free mix.

Collared Dove

Collared doves are ground feeders, similar to the robin. They will only feed off bird tables and ground feeding trays, or trays secured to bottom of bird feeders where there is a platform for them to perch.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the common but lesser known Eurasian collared dove. Keep a lookout for our next instalment of this series, where we will examine the goldfinch.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Megan, Wildlife

Welcome to the second post in our blog series on garden birds. In this post we will be taking a look at a bird that 98% of British gardeners report spotting in their garden: the blue tit. You will especially see blue tits during this time of year, when flocks join up with each other to search for food together. If you want to find out more about this fascinating garden bird, then read on.

All About Garden Birds: Blue Tits

What Do Blue Tits Look Like?

Distinctive in their colouring, the blue tit will stand out in your garden against the more plain looking starling or wren. To identify a blue tit, look out for yellow and blue green feathers through the body, a blue cap, white face, and a characteristic black line through the eye.

With the latin name Cyanistes caeruleus, the blue tit is a passerine bird, or ‘perching’ bird, with a distinctive feet that facilitate perching. Feet have three toes pointing forwards and one pointing backwards.

All About Garden Birds: Juvenile Blue Tit
Juvenile Blue Tit

Recently fledged blue tits have slightly different colouring than their fully grown counterparts. Juveniles have pale yellow cheeks that grow to be white in adulthood. Feathers are less vibrant in colour also.

Where Will I See Blue Tits?

The blue tit is not a migratory bird, so you will see it in the UK all year round. You will find them in gardens, woodland and parkland. They are also fond of hedgerows. The species  do not tend to venture very far from their birth place, maybe a few miles at most.

The blue tit itself is a species of the tit, of which 5 other species reside in the British Isles. The Eurasian blue tit can also be found in most of Europe and parts of the Middle East.

 

When Do Blue Tits Breed?

For the blue tit, breeding begins mid-April. Finding a suitable nesting site takes place in February followed by nesting in late March.

After seeking a suitable mate, the male blue tit will search for a nesting site to rear their young during the breeding season. The female will not always approve of the site so the male continues until one is suitable.

All About Garden Birds: Blue Tit
Blue Tit Nest

It is the female’s’ role to build the nest, with little to no help from the male. Building of the nest can take any time from a few days to two weeks. Materials used include moss, leaves and feathers and the nests are made in the shape of a cup. Blue tits may also use man-made bird houses or holes in walls as nests.

Eggs are laid at the rate of one a day, and a typical brood is 7-13 eggs. Blue tits will rear one brood at a time, unlike the robin, whose broods overlap. They will rarely have more than one brood during a breeding season.

All About Garden Birds: Blue Tits

The female will incubate eggs, which are white with reddish-brown speckling, for approximately two weeks. During this time the male will defend the nest and bring the female food. Eggs will hatch when there is a high abundance of food. They live off small caterpillars fed to them by both parents for up to three weeks before fledging.  

 

What Do Blue Tits Eat?

Blue tits first choice of food are insects, and they are great destroyers of coccids and aphids, both which are considered pests to many gardeners. They will also eat peanuts, peanut cakes and husk-free sunflower seeds.

Milk and cream are tempting treats for blue tits, as they can sometimes be seen perching on milk bottles. However blue tits are actually unable to digest dairy, so avoid leaving this out for them.

All About Garden Birds: Blue Tits

Being a relatively small bird, blue tits face fierce competition for food. For example, the house sparrow, which may visit the same bird feeder as a blue tit, is almost three times their weight. You can help them out with competition by investing in a smaller bird feeder that won’t be dominated by larger birds.

Interestingly, blue tits you observe at your feeder are not just feeding themselves – they could be collecting food for up to 22 other birds!

All About Garden Birds: Blue Tits

We hope you enjoyed finding out more about one of Britain’s favourite garden birds. Keep a lookout for the next post in our series, where we will be taking a look at the collared dove.

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.