The Urban Countryside – Chaffinches and Daisies

by Albert Nolan,

I was having a cup of tea with my neighbour and she was telling me about the troublesome bird that is in her garden. She couldn’t identify it but noticed it had a pinkish breast and that it wasn’t a robin.  I had a hunch it was a male chaffinch and a quick look through my bird guide solved that part of the mystery. She explained that each morning as she was trying to get her beauty sleep he continuously pecks at the window walking her up. Her daughter has also complained about the unwelcome noise and she was hoping I could explain why the bird was behaving in such a manner.

The breeding season is in full swing and the males have been busy establishing their territories. They do this by singing and this warns other birds that this garden is occupied. Also females will listen to the strength and vitality of his song and gauge if he is in good breeding condition. Walk along any quiet street or pass a garden and you will hear birds in full song.

Of course three’s a crowd in any relationship and the chaffinch in my neighbours garden sees his reflection in the glass and thinks that another male is trying to take over his hard won patch He is trying to drive the other bird away and protect his family. You will often see pied wagtails fighting with their own reflection in the mirrors of street cars.

Unfortunately for my friend this behavior will continue till the end of the breeding season and she did not see the funny side when I suggested that how many women have males fighting for attention outside their windows.

My chances of a second cup of tea had evaporated and I quickly made my excuses and headed for home. As I passed my neighbours garden I paused to admire a beautiful display of daisies that had turned large parts of the lawn snow white. Daisies are one of the few wildflowers that thrive in the urban environment. Our obsession with  neat and manicured lawn create the ideal situation for daises as they have plenty of light, grow low enough to avoid the blades of the mower and only have to compete with grass.

They are a very important source of nectar for early butterflies and during fine spells last year I saw Green veined whites and small tortoiseshells visiting the flowers throughout the day. An old tradition stated that when you can stand on the grass and cover five daises with your foot summer has arrived. I tried this but it didn’t feel right while I was wrapped up in a fleece and jacket. They were also used to make daisy chains and I remember sitting on my neighbour’s lawn with their daughters happily looking for the best flowers to make my necklace. They get their name for their habit of opening their flowers during the day and closing it at night, literally “days eye”.  Of course all this activity soon attracted the attention of my friend and I was politely told to stop loitering and for the second time that day I was sent on my way.

Back in the safety of my house I reflected on how common Chaffinches and daisies are and how we can often take them for granted. But each creature and plant in our towns and cities plays an important part in feeding or sheltering our wildlife and discovering new stories about them renews my interest around our nearest neighbours.

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