Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Collective noun: Siege or sedge
Family: Ardeidae – Herons
Size: Length 94cm, wingspan 1.8m, weight 1.5-2kg
Average lifespan: 5 years
Conservation status: Green
Description: Very tall slender, predominantly grey bird with a long, sharp, orange-yellow beak. In flight its long legs remain stretched out behind. They have a thick black eye stripe which extends into a feathery plume. Herons are most often seen standing stock on the edge of water bodies awaiting its unsuspecting prey.
Habitat: Grey herons can be seen alongside any water bodies including estuaries and even garden ponds.
Diet: Herons feed mainly on fish but will also eat ducklings and other juvenile water birds, amphibians and even small mammals including moles.
Breeding: Herons usually nest close together, high up in the treetops in a heronry. The nest begins as a small pile of sticks and twigs and is re-used each year, with more and more sticks being added. The female lays a clutch of usually three to five eggs which are incubated by both parents for around 25 days. The parents continue to work together to feed the chicks until they fledge at about 8 weeks old.
Interesting Fact: Roast heron was often served in Britain for banquets and special occasions. In 1465, to celebrate George Neville being appointed as Archbishop of York, 400 herons were served to guests as part of the meal.
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Family: Motacilladae – Pipits and Wagtails
Size: Length 18-19cm, wingspan 25-27cm, weight 14-22g
Average lifespan: 3 years
Conservation status: Red
Description: As the name suggests, the grey wagtail does have a grey back and wings, but its underside is bright yellow – the female’s underside less so. Both male and female have a white eye stripe, but during breeding season the male also has a distinctive white ‘moustache’.
Habitat: During winter months these slim wagtails tend to favour lowland farmyards and sometimes even urban areas. In breeding season, they are mainly found in the hillier regions of the UK.
Diet: Grey wagtails feed near rivers or streams mainly on ants and midges. In shallower water they will also feed on snails and tadpoles.
Breeding: The breeding season lasts from April to July and the nest lined with moss and hair is usually found in between stones and rocks alongside fast running streams or rivers. They also sometimes nest in holes in manmade structures. The average clutch size is 5 eggs which are incubated for two weeks before hatching.
Interesting Fact: The grey wagtail has the longest tail of all the European wagtail species.
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Collective noun: Party, band or scold
Family: Corvidae – Crows and shrikes
Size: Length 35cm, wingspan 52-58cm, weight 140-190g
Average lifespan: 4 years
Conservation status: Green
Description: Jays are one of the most brightly coloured members of the crow family, their plumage is mostly a pinkish-buff colour, but they have a black tail with a white rump underneath and black-and-white wings with an iridescent, bright blue patch. The jay also has a black moustache and relatively short, black beak.
Habitat: Jays can be found in most woodlands, parks and sometimes gardens, in spite of their colourful plumage they are shy birds and can be difficult to spot.
Diet: Jays mostly eat acorns, nuts seeds and insects but they will also take eggs and small nestlings.
Breeding: Jays usually mate for life. In April the pair begin working together to build a scruffy nest, usually in a tree or tall shrub using twigs and then lined with hair. The female lays 4 or 5 eggs which she incubates for 16 days.
Interesting Fact: Jays are important dispersers of oak trees. The bird’s specific name, glandarius, translates as ‘of acorns,’ which alludes to the bird’s habit of caching the nuts for the winter. A single jay may cache 5,000 acorns in a season! Many of these acorns are forgotten and grow into oak saplings. It is thought that jays were responsible for the rapid spread of oak trees after the last ice age.