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The Birds of Fletcher Moss, Stenner Woods and Millgate Fields

The mixed habitats of the park, the woods and the fields down to the river sustain a wide variety of bird species throughout the entire year. A walk through any of these areas will always be rewarded by encounters with common and not so common birds.

The list below is not exhaustive but merely shows the depth and breadth of the birdlife we can enjoy.

Some personal favourites include:

  • The goldcrest – Europe’s smallest bird. Goldcrests can be heard squeaking like unoiled wheels in the fir trees of the Botanical Garden and Parsonage Garden. Look out for them busily flitting around these trees looking for tiny insects.
  • The cormorant – a very ancient species and the closest thing to a dinosaur you are ever likely to encounter. Catch it in the right light and you will see blues, greens and purples in its plumage.
  • The kingfisher. You will nearly always hear its ‘peep peep’ call before you see it flying up and down the river always very close to the surface of the water. After heavy rain when the river is churned up and brown, kingfishers will hunt in the small streams, ponds and flooded areas of the woods taking not just small fish but also insect larvae.

You can use the photographs that follow to identify some of the birds you will see, and some you will be lucky to see!

Blue Tits are another very common ‘resident’ bird which can be seen everywhere, particularly if you have feeders in your garden. As well as seeds and nuts from garden feeders, blue tits feed on insects and spiders in the summer, and berries and nuts in the autumn and winter. They mostly rely on just one brood of some 7—13 eggs, and if this fails they have to wait until the following year to try again. You can’t fail to see and hear the many blue tits in our gardens.

A blue tit perching on a  broken tree branch.
A house sparrow perching on a stone.

The common House Sparrow is a cheerful and noisy resident of our parks, gardens and hedgerows. Sparrows are extremely sociable and you will find them in small flocks, often occupying a section of thick hedge (eg Hawthorn or Privet); they even nest together in small colonies. They have a very varied diet, which includes plant seeds, household scraps, peanuts from bird feeders, and food from rubbish. Their young are fed on invertebrates like caterpillars.

The Blackbird is one of the commonest British birds and can be seen everywhere in parks and gardens. It feeds on worms and grounds insects, and in the autumn on berries. One of the real sounds of summer is the beautifully melodious warbling song of the male blackbird. You would find it hard to miss seeing a blackbird on a walk around Fletcher Moss or Parsonage Gardens. The females are more brown than black and have a less bright beak than the male.

A male blackbird perching on a thin branch.
A song thrush standing on a stone.

Among our great bird sounds is that of the Song Thrush, which you can hear in the spring and summer in most areas of Fletcher Moss and the Parsonage, and particularly in Stenner Woods. Listen out for the very musical song of short phrases, each of which is repeated 3—5 times. The thrush is a close relation of the blackbird, and similar in its feeding and breeding habits, but it is much lighter in colour and has a very speckled breast.

The Great Tit is slightly larger than its relative, the Blue Tit (above), with a black cap, collar and throat, and a black line running down its yellow breast. It feeds on insects such as caterpillars in summer, and fruit, seeds and nuts in autumn and winter. It lays 5-12 eggs in its first brood and is more likely than the Blue Tit to have a second brood if the first fails. It is a resident bird which can be seen in all areas of Fletcher Moss throughout the year.

A great tit in flight, with its wings spread below its body.
A greater spotted woodpecker on a branch, with small remnants of wood from the branch on its beak.

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile male shown here) is sometimes hard to see, but you can hear its high-pitched ‘kick-kick’ call throughout the year, and in late winter and spring you are likely to hear its characteristic ‘drumming’ sound on the branches of trees in our woodland areas. The woodpecker has an enormously long tongue which it uses to reach into the nest chambers of tree insects. It nests in holes which it excavates in tree trunks or large branches.

A bird which is often missed because it goes about its daily life in a quiet and unobtrusive way is the Dunnock, another common resident in our area. It is often confused with the house sparrow, and in the past was known as a ‘Hedge-sparrow’, but its colour pattern, and in particular its beak, is quite different. It spends most of its life hopping around on the ground feeding on beetles, snails, spiders, flies and worms.

A dunnock perching on a branch and puffing out its feathers.
A swallow with a red throat, white underbelly and glossy blue back perching on a small branch.

Swallows come every year to nest and breed in the Fletcher Moss area. They migrate each April from southern Africa, a journey of some 5000 miles, and they often return to the same nest sites they have used in previous years. You will mostly see them over the river where they hunt for insects. They make the return journey to Africa around late September time, gathering in flocks

One of the most memorable sights and sounds of the summer are the fast flying Swifts with their wild and dramatic cries as they hunt for insects along the river. At dusk, when there are large numbers, they provide a magical experience. Swifts are one of the latest ‘migrant’ birds to arrive here, and one of the first to depart, arriving in early May and leaving in late August. Unlike

A swift mid-flight with its wings fully spread.
A sand martin perched outside of its nesting hole.

You will see Sand Martins along the river in the Fletcher Moss area, but they are most concentrated near where they are nesting, which is in the sandbanks along the river opposite the Galleon and further up towards Stockport, opposite Burnage Rugby Club. There is nothing like the sight of a large number of sand martins flying in and out of their nesting holes, particularly when they are feeding their young. They are similar in size, but not in colour, to House Martins.

One of our resident birds which can be seen at most times of the year is the brightly coloured Goldfinch. Like all members of the ‘finch’ family it has a broad strong bill which it uses to feed on nuts and seeds such as thistles, teasels, dandelions and ragwort. Goldfinches have a very pleasing, tinkling call, and you can often hear them before you see them. In autumn and winter they are mostly found in small flocks, feeding together.

A goldfinch perching on a broken tree branch.
A treecreeper latching onto a tree trunk and pecking at the bark. The bird is perched beyond a 90 degree angle, so that it is almost upside down.

A bird that is sometimes hard to spot but quite well established in Stenner Woods is the Treecreeper. It is aptly named as it creeps up trees picking out small insects from the fissures in the bark. When it gets to the top of the tree it flies down, or to another tree, and starts all over again, unlike the Nuthatch which feeds going up and going down. It’s brown/neutral colour makes it harder to spot than the Nuthatch, but be patient and you might see one.

The Goosander is a bird you will only see on the river, and you are more likely see it in the winter months, as resident birds are sometimes joined by others which migrate from north-east Europe and Russia. You will mostly see the male and female together (this is the female that is illustrated, the male has a dark bottle-green head) as the pair of them fly up and down their ‘own’ patch of the river. They are beautiful birds and one of the great sights on the Mersey in this area.

A goosander swimming in water.
A nuthatch perching on a mossy branch.

A bird which can be found in many of the woodland places in the Fletcher Moss area is the brightly coloured Nuthatch. It is resident all the year round, and it is often easier to hear it than to see it—it has a loud ‘tuit-tuit’ call and a ‘pee-pee-pee’ trill. Like the Tree creeper (above) it mainly feeds on insects which live in the bark of trees. It is very agile and works its way up and down trees and often feeds hanging upside down.

Another bird it is often easier to hear than to see is the Chiffchaff, one of our summer visitors from Africa, and one of the first to arrive each spring. It has a distinctive ‘chiff-chaff’ call which you can’t fail to hear if you walk around Stenner Woods in the early summer. It arrives in this area from the Mediterranean and north Africa in early April and leaves in mid-September. There are usually a number nesting and breeding in Stenner Woods.

A chiffchaff perching on a branch.
A robin perching on a mossy branch.

The Robin is seen just about everywhere in lowland Britain, and is a real favourite of our parks and gardens. They are probably the least shy of any common bird and will often come very near to you if they think your are doing something (eg gardening) which will unearth a nice juicy worm. In addition to their cheerful plumage they have a lovely melodious song. You can’t fail to come across a robin in the garden areas of Fletcher Moss.