Yellowhammer – emberiza citrinella
The canary yellow head of the male and its obliging habit of singing its well-known “little bit of bread and no cheese” song
from the top of gorse bushes or fence posts or other prominent perches, make this species unmistakable, at least in the
breeding season. In Gloucestershire, the song is apparently heard as “pretty-pretty-creature”!).
One or two pairs of yellowhammers may breed on the Downs around Kingston, and others at Castle Hill National Nature Reserve.
They are late nesters and may still be singing to defend their territory in August, when almost all other birds are silent.
The nest is often made on the ground or close to it, sometimes in long grass or under a bush. The eggs have rather strange
and random markings, giving the bird a number of local names including scribbling lark and writing master. The common name
seems to be a corruption of yellow amber (from the colour), so the bird is effectively twice yellow!
Yellowhamers are far less obvious in the winter, but some team up with other buntings and finches in mixed flocks to feed on
winter stubble, if, in these days of more intensive farming, they can find any. There are accounts (in the Birds of Sussex,
Sussex Ornithological Society, Ed. Paul James, 1996) of large local gatherings including one of 400 yellowhammers in January
1975 at Ashcombe Farm and another of 160 at Falmer in February 1988. These days, flocks of this size are not imaginable but
groups of 20 or so may still be found here and there.
Yellowhammers don’t generally get too close to human habitation. They may turn up in gardens in winter but there are no
records of this behaviour in Kingston.
Wren – troglodytes troglodytes
Wrens must have the loudest voice of any British bird in proportion to their size. They may sing at any month in the year,
but are most evident in April and May when their singing is at its most constant and when they tend to sing from prominent
perches in the open. At other times, they are more likely to stick to deep cover.
Wrens love to nest in thick ivy and often build nests next to buildings. Like other small birds, they are very vulnerable
to cold weather and they frequently use nest boxes as communal roosting sites. There are accounts of large numbers of birds
huddling together for warmth in this way.
Male wrens are very industrious and make several nests, their partners selecting the best. Research has shown that those
chosen are the most cryptic so the females know exactly what they are looking for. What happens to the others? Perhaps
other birds re-cycle the gathered material for their own nests.
Although fairly unobtrusive, when not singing their hearts out, that is, wrens are extremely common in Britain, numbering
perhaps eight million pairs. Their numbers plummet in cold winters but recover quickly.