Ever wondered what the dating profiles of some of your favourite birds might look like? Ahead of the Big Garden Birdwatch this 28-30 January, RSPB England’s Becca Smith takes a look at the love lives of some of our familiar garden birds…

The wild one – dunnock

Dunnocks are the masters of love triangles (or squares, or pentagons)! Polygamy is the norm in dunnock society, with one female often ‘pairing’ with two males. If the second male is suspicious, he’ll peck her behind (cloaca) and cause her to eject his rival's sperm!!

Sometimes confused with female house sparrows, these small brown/greyish birds are rather shy and are best spotted peeking out from shrubs in your local greenspace or garden. They can be attracted to gardens using seed mixes, especially smaller seeds such as millet.

The territorial one – robin

Robins might be fiercely territorial, but they only pair up with a mate for the breeding season. Despite their short-lived relationships, males will still compete with one another over territory, battling out through song, and occasionally physical disputes.

Often the first to begin singing in the morning and the last to stop at dusk, these melodic songsters were found in over 80% of gardens during last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Spot them in gardens and greenspaces looking for tasty worms, or feasting on mealworms and seed at feeders near you.

The songster – starling

Gathering in large flocks, starlings roost together, and especially in reedbeds, can be spotted forming fantastic murmurations at dusk. When they’re not busting some serious shapes, starlings are singing a variety of short tunes, often mimicking other bird songs or sounds. Some starlings have even been known to impersonate police sirens!

Starling song is important when it comes to raising a family, as male starlings build the base of their nest, then sit near to it and sing to attract a mate. The female who chooses him then finishes building the nest to ensure it is to her liking.

To attract starlings, who have been in decline since the 1970s, top up your feeders with softer foodstuffs such as suet or sunflower hearts (dehusked) to allow their slender beaks to grasp the food.

The dancer – goldfinch

Appropriately named as “charms” when forming their large flocks, goldfinches may have a sweet song, but it’s their Strictly Come Dancing style moves that attract a mate. Male goldfinches perform a delicate dance where they sway from side to side, showing the striking yellow on their wings to impress females.

To bring a flock of goldfinches to your feeder, put out their favourite foods – nyjer seed and sunflower hearts - and look out for them feeding on seed heads of plants such as teasel out in nearby greenspaces.

Did you know? In Medieval times young women would pay careful attention to the first bird they saw on Valentines Day, as it hinted to what type of man their future husband would be. A goldfinch meant a rich man, a robin meant a sailor and a sparrow would mean a poor man, but a happy life.

 The cuddler – long-tailed tit

These “lollipop” birds are a firm garden favourite, often arriving in small groups of family members who stick together throughout the winter season. During the colder months, these small birds huddle together, often in dense shrubs, to conserve body heat. They also utilise garden feeders full of foods such as suet to help them build their fat reserves.

As the masters of a cosy nest, long-tailed tits build oval-shaped nests made out of moss, feathers, hair and lichens that are held together with cobwebs. The process of building these intricate nests can take weeks and is carried out by both parent birds.

The minimalist – woodpigeon

By contrast, woodpigeons live a minimalist lifestyle and don’t tend to put too much effort into building their nests to raise their young. Preferring to nest in trees, these birds can be found repurposing the old nests of other birds or sometimes building very scant nests themselves – we were once sent an image of a woodpigeon whose nest consisted of three sticks!

While these birds perch high to sing their familiar “coo coo” song, when feeding they prefer foodstuffs on the ground, and can often be found cleaning up the scraps left behind underneath the feeder by other birds.

The loyal one – house sparrow

These sociable birds arrive in large groups and can be found perching in hedges near to sources of food, especially seed mixes and sunflower hearts. Remaining faithful to their mate for life, you’re likely to see these garden favourites return to the same nestbox each year to raise their young.

Having topped the Big Garden Birdwatch charts for 18 years running, it may come as a surprise that house sparrows have actually suffered declines since the 1970s. Nesting near to one another and often on the walls of homes in urban areas, installing a “sparrow terrace” can encourage these delightful birds to your doorstep and give their population a helping hand too.

The home-bird – blue tit

Another bird that remains monogamous for life is the blue tit. While they don’t spend time with their partner all year round, they will reunite in spring to breed, and so they often don’t stray far from where they fledged, sticking to the same area for life.

Each year, both males and females search for nest holes. When the male finds somewhere suitable, he calls to his female mate and flutters his wings in a wonderful display in the hope that she will approve the site. Often making use of garden nestboxes, be sure to provide plenty of food for these feathered friends, especially suet and sunflower hearts.

Whether you’d “couple up” with a cosy long tailed tit or you’d join a starling in a karaoke session, your garden birds are counting on you this winter.

Keep your feeders and water supplies topped up, ensure they are cleaned regularly, and take a moment to observe the birds that visit as the nation prepares for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Want to get involved? Simply spend an hour between the 28-30 January counting the birds you see land in your garden or greenspace and send your results to us here at the RSPB to allow us to monitor how are feathered friends are faring. It’s never been easier to take part: head to rspb.org.uk/birdwatch to register for your free guide today!

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