adult kittiwake
adult kittiwake by annmackiemiller

K is for Kittiwake
Rissa tridactyla 
Kittiwakes are easily my favourite gull! I've written about them often enough. They are the smallest and have almost angelic faces. I used to see them often in Fife, they nest on cliff ledges and in St Andrews and Crail there is a path along the top of cliffs so you look down on them. They are noisy little birds but love playing the thermals and 'beaking' with their mate.
In size they are about the same as a pigeon and they have a wingspan of around 40 inches. They will lay one or two eggs that hatch after about 27 days. They feed the chicks by regurgitation of fish. For most of the year they live out at sea.
kittiwake chick
Kittiwake chick by annmackiemiller

J is for Jackdaw
Corvus monedula

Wildlife Photography by
AnnMackieMiller copyright 2011

Jackdaws belong to the crow family and are much maligned.  In actual fact they are quite attractive birds and definately 'fit for purpose'.  They are a noisy bunch but particularly agile and intellegent.  I am lucky enough to have some visit my garden.  On a feeder I have a cage with a fat slab in it.  It is supposed to be for the little birds and I thought it was high enough away from the flat feeder to be safe.  At least one of the jackdaws has learned how to cling to the post with one leg to get at it.  On the same feeder I had a net bag full of nuts hanging.  Everyone knows jackdaws can't hover to get at them.  What I didn't know was he could perch on the top and pull the net up with his claws to rip a hole in the bag.

Jackdaws are grey/black with a dintinctive black cap and a white eye.  They are about 13 inches in length, have a wingspan of around 28 inches and weigh about 9 oz.  You most often see them in pairs or small groups and are often found nesting on roofs, in chimney stacks.  Below, Jackdaws collecting material for nests.
This jackdaw thinks this tissue will make good padding

Collecting down that has floated out of goose nests

"Can I get more in my beak?  I think I can get more in my beak!"
I is for Ibis
plegadis falcinellus
Gessner's 1555 woodcut of the Northern Bald Ibis
Not that I have seen one personally you understand but you do get them visiting the UK occasionally.  (Plus it was the only bird I could find starting with I)
At only 18 oz with a body length of 25 inches, the ibis (what a great name) is a small slim bird with a huge downward curving beak, purpose-built for probing in shallow water and mud.    
Fossil remains of the Ibis have been found suggesting their existence millions of years ago.
This bird is under threat because of destruction of its natural habitat.  The RSPB are at present involved in a conservation project in northern Africa.  RSPB conservation of the northern bald ibis There is also a great blog of 5 released Ibis and their journeys at Tracking Northern Bald Ibis

Blue heron illustration from RSPB

H is for Heron
Ardea cinerea

Herons are fairly common in the UK, found mainly on rivers and esturaries.  It is a large bird standing upright on long legs.  It is also easily recognised by it's huge beak.  The heron can draw that long neck in so it looks hunched.  It is mostly grey with black flashes and has two long black plumes.  Some of them look quite pre-historic and a bit scary.  I'm still trying to find a photo I took a couple of years ago that bears that out.

Herons average a weight of about 4 lbs, they have a wingspan of about 6 feet to a body length of about 38 inches.   

For such a big bird you can often miss it at first glance.  Characteristically it stands very still in shallow water, looking for prey.  It will stalk slowly through the water and when it spots prey will grab it with lightning speed.  Garden ponds filled with goldfish provide the heron with easy pickings.  Occasionally it can be deterred by placing an artificial heron by the pond.  Only last week glimpsing a grey heron from a distance I had taken the photo before noticing it was plastic.  :0)  Subsequently there are two or three hunting along Bingley canal.  You can see their photos on Grey Heron Pictures

Grey Heron Picture by AnnMackieMiller: copyright 2011
The real thing


G is for Goslings!

As I eagerly await a new season of goslings, (at least 10 nests this year!) I thought I would have a brief look back at last year's babies.  Enjoy the show.  Edit 21st May - as of today's date there are around 50 gosling on our stretch of the Bingley canal plus three families of Canada geese goslings.  I have lots of photo journals featuring them, too many to list here, but I have created an index in one place to make them easy to find.  My 2011 Birdwatching WebPages

You can see more of these characters on my webpages at Squidoo starting with Little Goosy Goslings

F is for Fulmar
Fulmarus glacialis

I always think of a fulmar as a seagull but I believe it is from the petrel family.  It is a big bird weighing up to 32 oz with a body length of 19in and a wingspan of 44 inches. Typically it has a bulky body and a small white head and neck and with a tube-like node on top of its beak.  When seen from above it is grey and black but the undercarriage is all pale except for the wing tips. 
They are a noisy bunch when courting and breeding and can be seen and heard conducting a cackling duet on many cliffs.


E is for Eider Duck
Somateria mollissimo

Male Eider Ducks at Arundel Wetland Centre
Wildlife Photography by AnnMackieMiller
copyright 2010
The eider duck is a large diving duck most often found near coasts or along estuaries.  They tend to flock together and the females form 'nurseries' or 'creches' to protect and look after ducklings.   They are particularly vulnerable to gulls. 
The female has dark plumage with paler barring while the male is has a white back with black undercarriage and black cap.  He also has a distinctive green flash on each side of the head.  Both have long flattish beaks stream-lined into the head, the beak looking like a grey V from the side.  Those beaks are perfect for eating the muscles and shellfish they bring up to the surface to eat.
Generally they weigh around 5 lbs and have a wingspan of about 40 inches to a body length of 25 inches - these being only averages.
To line the nest the female plucks down from her undercarriage and for many years the collection of this soft down formed major industry in places like Norway and Iceland.  Hence eiderdown quilts.


D is for Dunnock
Prunellla modularis

Wildlife Photography by AnnMackieMiller
copyright 2011

I know the dunnock as the hedge sparrow.  I'm not sure if that is a Scottish thing or if somewhere along the line was the realisation that is had a different beak to house and tree sparrow so warrented another name. - see, if I don't know the answer, I can always make up one! :0)
The dunnock is a pretty little bird commonly found in most British gardens.  It is about 5 inches long with a wingspan of around 8 inches.  They weight well under a pound. 
I believe in breeding three some are quite common and nest are usually found in hedges.  They are pretty little birds with streaks of brown and grey, with a pale grey undercarriage and with orange to red legs.  
The top photograph was taken in the garden of friends of mine, the second in my backyard.


C is for Coot
Fulica atra

The coot is one of my favourite birds, he is so comical with his huge blue legs and feet.  The coot belongs to the cranes and railes family and is easily identified by the white shield on his crown and beak.  Both male and female look the same and have bluey/black plumage.  They are most often found on lakes and large ponds.  They arn't so fond of canals or rivers so none on my canal I'm afraid.  However, there is an estate near me with a wonderful collection of quarellsome coots that I am able to visit and photograph.  They tend to be a noisy bunch and while feeding on water will dive down and popping up like corks - particularly endearing in the young.  From my own observation they don't seem to fly much but will flap along, with their feet touching down on the water so they look as if they are walking on water.
Those long legs and feet are ideal for dealing with boggy ground even if they do look a bit comic to us.
More coot pictures on The Coot

'well YOU try managing feet like mine!"
Wildlife Photography by AnnMackieMiller
copyright 2011
Wildlife photography by AnnMackieMiller: copyright 2011
'Coot on Bright Water'

B is for Blackbird
Turdus merula

Photo source: Wildlife Photography by AnnMackieMiller
copyright 2011

The British blackbird is a common garden or woodland bird from the thrush family.  The male is all black with a brilliant yellow or orange beak while the female is brown.   It is normally about 3 ounced in weight and has a wingspan of about 14 inches to a body length of 9 inches or so. 
Blackie is a very friendly bird and can easily be tamed to come for grubs and worms.  They are often seen in the garden and if you dig up a nice juicy worm for him he will bless you with his beautiful song.  They are good mimics too, often copying sounds around them.
Mrs Blackie can be seen hopping and scuffing through leaf litter and drumming on the lawn in imitation of rain to get the worms to rise. 
These photographs were taken of Mr and Mrs Blackie in my back garden (backyard)

Photo credit: Wildlife Photography by AnnMackieMiller
copyright 2011

A is for Avocet

Avocet - Recurvirostra avosette

photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Avocet
The avocet is a stunning white and black wading bird mainly seen on muddy shorelines.  It has a distinctive long up-turned bill ideal for grubbing for food: they sweep the bill sideways through mud and silt for tiny invertebrates so they prefer shallow water.   It is described as having a rounded body with small head, long grey/black legs and black and white markings.  In particular the male has distinctive black primary feathers - those at the end of the wings - with shoulder and wing bars in black.

They are roughly the same size as a pigeon and tend to weigh about 10 ounces.  They have a wingspan of around 30 inches to a body length of around 17 inches.

You can see them in the UK between March and September.  I have sighted them at Martin Mere but unfortunately too far away for any decent photos.

I thought I would try to see if I could come up with an A-Z of birds - now I know I might stumble on some, but that is where poetic licence comes in. ;0)

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