Bird on your doorstep: Winter preparations begin

Pink-footed geese are beginning to arrive from the Arctic.
Pink-footed geese are beginning to arrive from the Arctic.

Autumn means different things to different people – harvests, late summer holidays, blackberry picking, autumn leaves...

To birds, it means essential preparing for the winter. The resident species have finished nesting and dispersed their young from their territories.

Laying up fat reserves for the winter, and moulting their feathers after the wear-and-tear of raising a family, are now a priority.

For many birds, preparing for winter means migrating – setting off on their long journey to Africa, to avoid the cold and the food shortage they would have to face if they stayed.

Insect-eating birds like swallows, martins, flycatchers and warblers prefer to endure the many hazards of the journey rather than face certain starvation.

Most migratory birds set off unobtrusively: one day they are still here, the next they are gone, like the spotted flycatchers that reared their family in a neighbour’s ivy-covered wall.

Others, like swallows and house martins congregate excitedly on telegraph wires for days before choosing the big moment.

The young have spent much time flying high over their home area so that they will recognize it when they return next spring – if they survive the incredible journey.

Autumn migration also means other birds coming here for the winter from the far north. The first of the pink-footed geese are already arriving.

I was delighted and relieved to see over a thousand in Budle Bay because their population has been steadily declining owing to pressure on their breeding grounds in Iceland, and also being shot both there and in the UK.

Britain is to these geese what Africa is to our swallows – their winter refuge – and I hope they have a safe welcome here.

Yes, the summer is suddenly gone and autumn is here.