Un­com­mon vis­i­tor gets into a flap in cities

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

I’VE al­ways loved the un­nat­u­ral his­tory of wildlife, and even af­ter 40 years in the press I am still find­ing out new things.

For ex­am­ple, when re­search­ing a piece on the in­flux of Rus­sian wood­cocks in Lon­don, of all places, I came across a leg­end about Scan­di­na­vian gold­crests – tiny tit-like birds which also leave their home­lands for the UK when the colder weather hits.

Be­cause gold­crests and wood­cocks are of­ten seen ar­riv­ing to­gether along Bri­tain’s East Coast, it was once be­lieved that gold­crests hitched a ride on the backs of wood­cocks to en­able them to cross the North Sea. This led to gold­crests earn­ing the nick­name ‘the wood­cock’s pi­lot’.

In re­cent weeks, the RSPB has been re­ceiv­ing nu­mer­ous re­ports of wood­cock – a bulky wad­ing bird with a long bill – show­ing up in back gar­dens and even cities.

Sur­prised mem­bers of the pub­lic have also taken to so­cial me­dia to share pic­tures of birds ap­pear­ing in ur­ban ar­eas, in­clud­ing cen­tral Lon­don.

Many birds ap­pear dazed and con­fused, hav­ing col­lided with build­ings and win­dows.

But as birds which usu­ally live in wood­land and ru­ral habi­tats, what are they do­ing in our cities? Be­cause they make their long jour­neys – of­ten over 1,000 miles – dur­ing the night, fly­ing low, wood­cock are prone to bump­ing into un­ex­pected land­marks.

Of­ten these are tall build­ings next to rivers, sug­gest­ing the birds are us­ing rivers as mi­gra­tory paths.

Ex­perts also sug­gest that wood­cock are lured by ar­ti­fi­cial lights, and can mis­take glass win­dows and shiny of­fice build­ings for the open sky.

To help, Ben An­drew, RSPB wildlife ad­vi­sor, says: “Fix an ob­ject to the out­side of the glass to in­di­cate the ob­sta­cle, and break up the sheen of the glass.

“Try cut­ting out half moons, stars or hawk shapes from coloured self-ad­he­sive plas­tic – but any shape should do the trick.”

These enig­matic birds are nor­mally shy and hard to see. They have eyes on the sides of their heads, giv­ing them 360° vi­sion to help them spot ap­proach­ing preda­tors.

Wood­cock eat mostly earth­worms, which they ex­tract us­ing their long bills. How­ever dur­ing the cold win­ter of 1962-3, when the ground be­came too hard to pen­e­trate, some starv­ing wood­cock were found to be com­ing to ur­ban ar­eas in search of food.

The RSPB is en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to in­ter­fere as lit­tle as pos­si­ble if they find a wood­cock which has strayed off course and isn’t vis­i­bly in­jured.

Given time to re­cover in peace, they will nor­mally fly off and re­sume their jour­neys when ready.

The wood­cock is one of my favourite birds, and their ‘rod­ing’ flight is un­mis­take­able at dusk, the bird here was seen in the woods at the side of Rhodeswood Reser­voir in Long­den­dale.

Paint­ing of a wood­cock near Rhodeswood reser­voir in the Peak Dis­trict

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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