January is the first sign of spring in the garden and for your garden birds. However, January is still a survival month and in recent years it is preceded by extreme weathers in February and March.
If you listen carefully you will notice the start of the dawn chorus. If you look closely you may start to see the beginning of pairs and territory battles. The birds are active and it can bring a sense of excitement to the garden.
Birds are still trying to survive at this time of year and you may see more birds than usual. Some will be your hungry residents and others will be migrants dropping in for a much-needed snack break. Food is scarce and your bird table may become the lifeline in their territories.
Birds may look like they’re grazing all day. Lots of small garden birds need a lot of fat and energy to survive the cold nights. Alongside all this eating though, there are other things happening.
The Breeding Season Begins
Once daylight started to kick in towards the end of December and our days got a little bit longer our small garden birds have started to think about breeding. We may not have noticed that much of a difference personally, the days still feel dark. Birds hormones, however, have really noticed the light.
Light-detecting cells in birds’ brains have registered the change and flicked an irreversible switch, accelerating the reproductive process. You may not notice much of a difference, birds don’t really give a lot away.
They key though is in the sounds. If you listen out you will hear them. Birds start to sing a little more in December and then by January it feels like they are awake most of the night. This bird song will increase more and more until we reach the dawn chorus.
Bird Songs and what to notice
The changes in song give them away. The birds are not just making noise, or alarm calls like the shriek of the Blackbird or the alarm call of a blue tit. They have been composing since September and now their songs are in full swing. Complete with verses and chorus your garden birds will be breaking out into tunes.
Their songs are no longer about alarms but now they are marking out territories. Songs signal spaces and places and they are making other birds aware that this is where they want to be in Spring. It is where they will ultimately raise their broods. This is no longer a reactive song but a fully-fledged (excuse the pun) I’m here and I am staying put for the Spring.
If you take the time to listen, sometimes from the early hours, you will really notice the build-up of the song in your garden. The more songs you have the more you might see of the birds in Spring.
What are Garden birds are singing?
We all know the sounds of the Robin, a gorgeous melody. Your Robins will be laying out their territories, they are fierce and protect it well. Wrens will start to pipe up too and in January these little birds will be really pulling out all the stops. They will be joined by Blue tits, Coal tits and maybe the occasional Dunnock. We have a Dunnock that sits in the same tree each day and belts out a little high-pitched song.
Then, of course, we have the thrushes. True songsters and much bigger and louder than the Robin & Wren. The Thrushes will be in the trees making melodies along with the Blackbirds — the true singers of any garden.
This will all build up throughout January and by the end of the month you should have a full choir all competing for space and somehow creating a glorious composition that seems like it’s been put together.
Winter Survival — Singers need to eat
With all the singing going on, it can feel as though everything is harmonious in the garden. This isn’t the case. Birds need food to survive and the cold months are still here for a few more weeks, maybe even until late March.
January days are still short and the birds still need to bring enough food to survive. It’s a hard balance to strike between marking out your space and getting enough food that you don’t go hungry overnight.
Every day, a small bird must find enough food to lay down fat reserves for the night to come; if it doesn’t, it will starve during the darkness. So, to cater for the deadly night to come, the days are one long feeding binge, with little time for anything else.
This can be really tough for garden birds.
A goldcrest, for example, must feed from dawn to dusk without stopping even for a moment — a disturbance lasting only half an hour on a cold mid-winter day could potentially be fatal. And each of our tit species must devote nine out of every ten waking minutes to finding food.
Blackbirds and Thurshes aren’t exempt. They don’t need to eat as much but they do struggle to find food in the colder months. Although Blackbirds are omnivorous a large percentage of their diet is made up of insects, fruits & berries. When the cold months are here they are unable to find this food and can take hours searching.
Putting out bird feeders really can be a lifeline for birds at this time of year. A full feeder could be the difference between making it through the night and not.
Other birds will come and visit
Birds become opportunists at this time of year. They have to be to survive. You might find you see more birds like Woodpeckers, Jays and even the odd predator in the garden. They too will be looking for food.
You will also get migrants and if the weather is really cold we could see birds like fieldfares, redwings and other farmland birds coming in their numbers to the garden.
You might find you need to add more food to the garden tables and feeders to support these birds. Leaving out apples and fruits can really help them and the thrushes too.
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