Uncommon visitor gets into a flap in cities
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