Partridges in trees, turtle doves, French hens, robins and turkeys might come to mind when you think of Christmas birds, but which feathered beauties might you be spotting on our coasts during the festive season?
The colourful head of a male teal sparkles just like a bauble, but you won’t see this bird in any trees. Look out for groups of these whistling ducks on the water of rivers and in harbours this Christmas. Shining bright like the Christmas star is the male wigeon (pronounced just like pigeon but with a w) with his golden forehead, these ducks will be tucking in to a vegetarian Christmas dinner of grass, roots and seaweed. If we don’t get a white Christmas this year then don’t worry, just head to the shore and watch the tiny white sanderling chasing waves in search for food, these delightful snowflakes pick up small animals who are washed up on the sand.
Shelduck will remind you of Rudolf the reindeer with a bright red beak! These large ducks can be seen slurping up the top layers of intertidal mud in search for small animals who live inside and if you are wondering who would steal Christmas number 1 in the bird charts then have a listen to the curlew’s unmistakable song here. These large wading birds have a long-curved beak for searching in the mud. brent geese, named after the old Norse word for burnt, have black feathers like the charcoal left in your fireplace after you warm your toes. Brent geese are much smaller and darker than the Canadian geese you might be more familiar with, and they migrate 3000 miles to spend their Christmas here with us.
If you are heading to the coast this Christmas hoping to walk off those puddings, then please remember to look out for all the wonderful birds who are around at this time of year. Whilst you do, please remember, in the spirit of Christmas giving, to give the birds plenty of space. If we enjoy them from a distance, then they can conserve energy and be prepared for a huge migration back to the Arctic in the spring. Christmas is a busy time on the beach for both humans and birds, let’s make sure we can all enjoy this most wonderful time of year!