On The Wing by Gary Atkins

on the wing
on the wing

Some people pay a lot of money to travel the world to see exotic birds – birds of the most astonishing features, unusual habits and vibrant colours. What it would be if we could all witness such amazing sights ...

Well, we can and we don’t have to fly thousands of miles over oceans to do so.

Some of the most striking and attractive birds live right on our very own doorstep, and being colourful they are often relatively easier to see than the ‘little brown jobs’.

Take the Kingfisher which makes its territory wherever there’s water.

A flash of red and blue is sometimes all we get as it skims the surface at breakneck speed with its rapid wing beats, but if we catch one still, on a branch waiting to plunge in for its take-away dinner, the iridescent blue wings, red breast and sky blue back and white throat is a simply entrancing sight.

Still on the water, Great Crested Grebes are sleek and beautiful diving birds with prominent ear tufts and crest in summer plumage, but they really come into their own when pairs mesmerise onlookers with their convoluted and balletic display ‘dances’ on the water – and even the end result, their offspring, delight as they sit on mum’s back craning their striped heads and necks.

One of the favourite garden birds is the Bullfinch: hardly surprising when a close view shows a jet black cap and wings, huge expanse of pink on its belly and breast, blue grey upperparts and its tell-tale white rump.

Shame this magnificence is not matched by its soft and rather pathetic call.

And even birds that are chiefly black and white can be very striking in appearance: Magpies with their tails almost as long as their bodies, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers with their flashes of red that help identify male from female and adult from juvenile, and the Lapwing with a cute top-knot and black wings and back that are actually a very dark, shiny green if you view it in good light conditions (and leads to its alternative name of Green Plover).

Like Magpies, the Jay is also in the crow family, but that’s where its similarity with its all-black cousins stops.

The Jay, with its admirable ability to fill numerous acorn larders in the autumn and unerringly find them months later, has a black moustache, a streaked crown buff-pink body, white rump and wings parading a complex pattern of black, white and scalloped blue ... much more interesting than its Siberian namesake.

... I think I’ll stay in Britain this year!