Abbey Fields is a valuable urban wildlife reserve with grassland and marshland habitats used by many birds. The environs of the lake provide one such habitat. Formed on the site of the historic Abbey fish ponds, the lake is used today by a range of breeding waterfowl, including Mute Swan, Mallard, Little Grebe, Coot and Moorhen.
Grey Herons are often seen feeding, sometimes perching defiantly on the “No Fishing” sign!
The dense vegetation and reed beds bordering the lake are vital for several wild birds. They are home to some and a feeding ground to others. In late Spring, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers return to these beds from Sub-Saharan Africa. Wrens build nests on the floor amongst the nettles and brambles, each male controlling a territory tens of metres in length along the bank. Reed Buntings, Wrens, Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, and Tits all forage along the banks of the lake for material and food. Occasionally, rare birds such as Water Rail also benefit from this natural resource. Friends of Abbey Fields work hard to keep the reed beds free of the invasive Himalayan Balsam. Without this perennial struggle, the precious habitat would be quickly overrun!
In autumn and winter, visiting wildfowl include the Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, with Whooper Swan and Mandarin Duck also recorded in recent surveys. Rare visitors include Bonaparte’s Gull (in 1992, Abbey Fields was the location of the first recorded sighting in Warwickshire), as well as Water Pipit and Grey Phalarope.
Finham Brook runs beside the southern perimeter of the lake, and Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails are sometimes spotted here.
The surrounding parkland holds typical breeding birds, including Green Woodpecker, Song and Mistle Thrushes, Jackdaw, Dunnock, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Bullfinch. A nationally red-listed species, the Spotted Flycatcher, bred in 2016 in St Nicholas churchyard.
A Bird Walk event is held annually by Friends of Abbey Fields. In recent years, Colin Potter, a local ornithologist, has entertained and enlightened us with his knowledge of the habits and songs of the resident birdlife. On one recent Bird Walk, species that were seen or heard included the Wren, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw, Robin, Song Thrush, Stock Dove, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, and Long-Tailed Tit.
A Few of the Visitors
A small selection of visitors to Abbey Fields are described below. Where possible an audio sample of the bird call is given.
The Blackcap is a greyish warbler with a shrill call. The male has a distinctive black cap, the female, a chestnut brown one. About the size of a robin, it used to visit exclusively in summer but is now seen in wintertime too. Their diet comprises insects and berries.
The distinctly red-faced Goldfinch is a success story in the UK – possibly responding to sunflower seed provided in bird feeders! They nest high up in trees, and the nest has a lip around it to prevent the eggs rolling out as the tree sways in the wind. The Goldfinch beak is fine but powerful, allowing it to extract seeds from plants.
The Chiffchaff is the earliest warbler to arrive in Abbey Fields (around February). It is named after its song, which appears to repeat its name. The domed nest is constructed at a low level in bushes or grass. Some Chiffchaffs stay all year-round, but most migrate to the UK from Africa.
The Mute Swan is the largest of the waterbirds seen in Abbey Fields and will sometimes act aggressively if they feel their young are at risk. It can take up to two years for a cygnet to become a mature adult. The bird is named “mute” because it is less vocal than other swans.
The Nuthatch nests in holes in trees and is also a regular user of the birdboxes in Abbey Fields. It has the peculiar ability to run down trees as well as up them! Sometimes they can be seen in what bird books describe as an “acrobatic pose”, bending out from the trunk with their beaks slightly up. If you look at nest boxes around Abbey Fields, occasionally, you may see one with its hole partially blocked with mud.
Its occupant is likely the Nuthatch – they like a small and safe entry hole.
There are numerous ducks on the Abbey Fields Lake. They are tame, and the feeding platform is always a popular spot. The Warwickshire Wildlife Trust suggests that it’s best not to feed them bread, but “they love eating sweetcorn, lettuce, oats and seeds”.
Occasionally you may see a Hybrid Duck – the result of domesticated ducks having been released into places such as the lake and then breeding with the local mallards.
A large goose, with a distinctive black head and neck and large white throat patch. An introduced species from North America, it has successfully spread to cover most of the UK. It forms noisy flocks and is often regarded as a nuisance in areas where large numbers occur on amenity grassland and parks.
The Abbey Field’s Jackdaw population has increased in recent years. They are small, black Corvids with a silvery grey-black head, and are typically unafraid of human presence. Almost half of their diet is insect, another quarter is vegetable matter and the final quarter is animal matter, most of which is carrion. Occasionally, the Jackdaw will take eggs and nestlings.
See also, Valerie Whiteman’s Newsletter article on Jackdaws.
Grey herons are unmistakable: tall, with long legs, a long beak and grey, black and white feathering. They can stand with their neck stretched out, looking for food, or hunched down with their neck bent over their chest. They can be seen around any kind of water – garden ponds, lakes, rivers and even on estuaries. Sometimes, grey herons circle high up in the sky and can be mistaken for large birds of prey. They can be seen at any time of year – our grey herons do not migrate. They eat lots of fish, but also small birds such as ducklings, small mammals like voles, and amphibians. After harvesting, grey herons can sometimes be seen in fields looking for rodents.
Did You Know?
Some birds fall silent in the autumn and forget what their song sounds like! In the spring, they must learn their songs all over again. They start out a bit scratchy, but over the weeks, they develop in clarity and duration – making them more attractive in the breeding season.
- Spring Birds – Valerie Whiteman
- Tree Huggers – Valerie Whiteman
- Visit the RSPB website to see how to care for birds near you
- See also Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
- Review the FOAF Newsletters that feature birdlife
- Reports on FOAF Bird Walks
Thanks to WDC, Valerie Whiteman, Colin Potter, David Emsley, et al for contributions to this page.