Did you know...
Some surprising facts from the magazine of the British Trust for Ornithology ( BTO )
Twenty-five is the record number of eggs layed by one female Cuckoo in the nests of other birds?
Over five summers when egg-laying was observed, Edgar Chance found that Cuckoo's laid ninety eggs. Eighty-seven in Meadow Pipit nests, two in Tree Pipit and one in Skylark.
Chance's record was equalled in 1988 by Mick Bayliss, studying Cuckoos in Oxfordshire. All twenty-five eggs were laid in the nests of Reed Warblers.
A brood of hungry young Kingfishers can demand up to 100 small fish a day. Kingfishers can have three broods with around six youngsters in each brood that are fed in the nest for up to 27 days. Over a breeding season this can mean that the adult Kingfishers have to catch over 8,000 small fish just to feed their young.
young Swifts do press-ups to prepare them for their first flight? If you have been lucky enough to have Swifts nesting in your house then you might wonder what has been happening above your heads for the last few weeks.
How does a young Swift prepare for the first flight, as it grows up in the dark? When a Robin chick leaves the nest it can hardly fly, so parents will hide it in a bush and feed it for a few more days, as it gains strength. Swifts have to drop out of the nest, thirty feet up, flap their wings for the first time and fly. Some may desperately cling onto the edge of a building for a short while but, for most, the first flight could last for the next two years, with a bird not landing again until it is looking for a nest site.
If a young bird is too weak when it fledges it may be unable to survive the first couple of days and nights but if it is too heavy then it may well crash-land in your garden. The key things are to be well-fed but fit. In preparation for departure, young swifts will have been doing press-ups in the nest for three weeks or so, strengthening their wings by pressing them on the floor of the nest and lifting up their bodies. As they get stronger they can support themselves for longer. If the parents kept feeding them right through to the point of fledging then they would have good fat reserves but would be unable to take off. Instead, the chicks are programmed to stop eating and to use stored fat to finish growing feathers and to develop a muscle-to-fat ratio that is just right for flight. We know from BTO ringing data that, if all goes well, in four days time a young swift may be as far south as Madrid.
Unlike the rest of our sandpipers, Sanderling only have three toes on each foot? The fourth toe, at the back of the foot, is missing. Sanderlings have evolved to be fleet of foot, racing up the beach ahead of a wave and then following it back as it ebbs. You may notice that Plovers such as Ringed Plover and Golden Plover are also three-toed, whereas the Grey Plover has a small hind toe. The fourth toe gives more stability but compromises running speed.
The Barnacle Goose gets its name from a marine crustacean, the goose barnacle? The myth that these goose barnacles are young Barnacle Geese goes back over 600 years and was still believed during the early 1900’s.
It was thought that the geese began life hanging by their beaks from seagoing floating timber and that once these young geese had acquired their feathers, they just let go of the floating timber and flew away. That these birds began life in this way was fortuitous as they were classed as fish, not fowl, and could still be eaten during Lent when meat was forbidden – in certain parts of the county this might have helped the myth persist.
That the Wren in your garden may call with a Russian accent? These tiny birds may not look like archetypal migrants but occasional birds have crossed the North Sea in both directions, indicating that there is a small arrival of birds in the autumn.
Most of our Wrens travel only very small distances in their lives but we do see the occasional foreign visitor. Some years ago, we learned that a bird ringed in Russia had turned up in Sussex. Three other birds have crossed the North Sea on their way from Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany. It would be easy to believe that these birds had taken off in a high wind and got blown here by accident, were we not also to know that several birds have made the return journeys in the spring. Five Wrens wearing rings put on by BTO ringers in the winter-time in England have subsequently been found in The Netherlands, and two others in Sweden. Next time you see a Wren fly across your garden, imagine these amazing migrations!
Turkeys have more in common with the parthenogenetic stick insect that you might imagine?
In the 1930’s poultry researchers in North America noticed a high incidence of fertile eggs from female turkeys that had no access to male turkeys. Parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction found in females, where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization by a male, had been discovered in turkeys for the first time.By 1955 the researchers became proud parents to the first parthenogenetic turkey chick.
Although parthenogenesis in chickens had been discovered in the nineteenth century, the embryos were always weak and failed to develop to the hatching stage. By the end of their twenty-year study 1,100 parthenogenetic turkey chicks had been hatched. These were always male. A few of these male turkeys reached sexual maturity and went on to produce normal heterosexual offspring.
Did you know one of the first indications that birds migrated from Africa, was when a White Stork was seen alive in Europe with an African spear through its neck. Of course, with the advent of ringing we now know that many species make this incredible journey.
The egg of the Guillemot is the most variably patterned/coloured egg of any bird in the world. This great variation helps prevent confusion over egg ownership in the species large dense colonies.
Small nest boxes were being put up as early as 1527. These were for House Sparrows and were only found in Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. They took the form of clay pots and were not exactly put up for the benefit of the birds. They were there to provide a source of fresh meat for the householder. Young sparrows were considered a delicacy around this time, as well as being a good source of protein.
The Arctic Tern probably sees more daylight than any other living creature, spending the summer months in the 24 hour daylight of the Arctic and the winter months in the 24 hour daylight of the Antarctic. It obviously undertakes huge migrations to achieve this, so it comes as no surprise that it holds the record for the longest distance recovery of any British bird, with one ringed in Anglesey found in Australia, 18,056km away.