Over 500 different species of birds on the British list

swan
swan

Does size really matter? Well, yes it does when it comes to wildlife.

If you are after the most tender and tastiest leaves on the Acacia tree, it helps if you are a giraffe. If you are the largest cat in the world, a lion, you don’t have too many predators to worry about. But if you are as small as an earthworm, then everybody seems to want to eat you.

Even if you are a microscopic piece of plankton adrift in the open ocean you may be eaten by the second biggest fish in the world, the basking shark, which is often seen off the Berwickshire coast, or the Scottish chippy favourite, a wee haddock.

When it comes to birds though, our smallest British bird, the Goldcrest, Regulus regulus, weighs in at around 5.5g. It is a stunning little bird with an orange or yellow punk style Mohican hair do, and is a resident wide spread bird in the Borders. While the second smallest, the Firecrest, Regulus ignicapillus, weighs about a gram heavier and is very scarce in our area. I was however lucky enough to see one a couple of years ago at St Abbs Head at the Mire Loch.

Our third smallest bird is the Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, and is our most numerous bird species in Britain, in the region of around seven million individuals.

One thing these birds have in common is a very short life span of three to four years.

On the other scale, our largest bird the White Tailed Eagle, Haliateetus albicilla, weighs approximately 15.3lb (7kg) with a wingspan of up to eight feet (2.45m), numbers are still small in Scotland and are concentrated mainly in the Isles of Mull, Harris and Lewis, but, recently introduced by various organisations are spreading east to Aberdeenshire and down as far as the Borders, with one taking up residence for a fortnight on Holy Island two years ago.

Next largest native bird is the Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, weighs about 13lb(6kg) and has a wingspan of seven and a hal;f feet (2.3m). A population of roughly 500 breeding pairs in Scotland, mainly to the west and central Highlands and Outer Hebrides with a few pairs in Dumfries and Galloway and the Lake District. We did have a breeding pair here in the Borders but unfortunately the female was found dead from poisoned bait. Iit is dreadful that such persecution continues in such environmentally aware areas.

On an upper note the lone male successfully found a new girlfriend, mated but the eggs failed in 2013. The new lass is only four years old and this is not uncommon for a young bird as it can take two or three seasons before she is successful in raising a brood. Fingers crossed for the next few years.

Third largest bird is the Red Kite, Milvus milvus, with a wingspan of 70” (179cm) it has a very distinctive forked tail and with over 450 pairs breeding in Britain, rangingfrom Wales to the Midlands, Yorkshire and through the Great Glen to Inverness.

Birds are seen regularly in the Borders. Four years ago walking through the Mary’s Glade in Duns Castle Estate I spotted one flying low over the trees. Unfortunately a few days later a bird was taken to the Swan and Wildlife Trust in Berwick, found on the Lammermuirs by a hill walker. X-rays showed it had been shot and it died two days later in the care of the late David Rollo MBE who was appalled and deeply upset over the persecution of such an iconic species.

The bigger you are, the longer you live. These large birds have a life expectancy of around 25 years. Our heaviest bird is the Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, with the cob (male) weighing up to 26lb (12kg).

So travelling from the smallest to the heaviest to the largest we have a wide range of bird life through our island with over 500 different species on the British list.

Tonight, Thursday, March 6, is our next lecture and Mary Gough is treating us to a talk and slide show on Northumberland National Park. We meet at 7.30pm in Duns Parish Kirk Hall (behind the Post Office). Entry is £1.50 to all and includes tea and biccies at the end. Please do come and join us.