Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.177

Published on: 27 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 27 Dec, 2018

By Malcolm Fincham – a Christmas special

To my delight nature has returned once again to adorn a tree near a busy road junction in Guildford, decorating it with a roosting flock of pied wagtails, perching like Christmas baubles, embellishing its branches.

Pied wagtails roosting in a sycamore tree outside Frankie & Benny’s restaurant in Woodbridge Road near Woodbridge Meadows.

My recent suspicions had been confirmed, and I was most grateful for the information I had received, on my first opportunity there to investigate.

I had recorded seeing them in a winter roost there for several years now. And recalled having written about them for The Guildford Dragon NEWS as long ago as December 2014. 

For some reason or other last year they chose a different location, thought to have been closer to Guildford town centre.

A street lamp helps to illuminate the pied wagtails.

Although I had been unable to track them down last winter, I didn’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes this year to recognise the small poop stains they had decorated the ground with, (recalling rebuking my son on many occasions for that renown saying “No s*** Sherlock!?”).

Even though quite apt on this occasion, the birds had departed at dawn to forage the surrounding town and countryside, with no other trace of them having been there.

However, they have been seen most evenings at dusk returning to their roost in a sycamore tree outside Frankie & Benny’s restaurant near Woodbridge Meadows.

Winter can be a difficult time for wildlife, and in spite of the recent mild weather the wagtails perch in almost complete silence on the twigs and branches with just a few making small movements to re-adjust their positions.

Pied wagtails roosting with many passers-by not realising they are there.

It is possible that some of these birds have travelled long distances. Many move south from the Scottish Highlands when food gets scarce and the weather too harsh. They gather and roost under the warmth of our ‘city lights’ and buildings.

Pied wagtails are insectivores, feeding on both ground and aerial invertebrates. They can be commonly seen on pavements and rooftops, and have been known to search for easy pickings, such as dead insects in car radiator grills. In the autumn and winter, when insects are scarce, pied wagtails will come into gardens to feed on seeds and bread.

These birds a real “townies”, many preferring urban areas where they can shelter, taking advantage of the heat lost from homes, shops and offices, which can lift the ambient temperature by several degrees Celsius above that of the surrounding countryside. This is known as the ‘urban heat island effect’.

They are certainly evidence of the renown proverb “birds of a feather, flock together”

The birds really do look like like Christmas baubles.

There is safety in numbers and there have been reports of roosts of more 3,500 individuals recorded in some areas of the UK.

In the countryside, the birds will often roost in reed beds where they are safer from predators. But this particular flock, unnoticed by many a passer-by, certainly appear to have found “safety in numbers”.

An important word of note, please take care not to “spook” them if you visit them.

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Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.177

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    December 29, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Another fascinating account bird life in Guildford which merits much more attention.

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