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Wild Life Leaflet
Vipers Bugloss
Egyptian geese
Pine Martin
Colney Nature Watch
A series of articles on the wild life in London Colney

Every day my wife described these beautiful birds that kept visiting our birdbath. "What are they?" she asked. Each time she noticed something different. So next day I arose early, when birds are most active, and sat so I could watch the birdbath without being seen. Sure enough they came. Beautiful sparrow sized birds with black and white heads - with the ITont of their heads bright red. Their bodies were sand coloured with pale patches below. Their wing tips were black and yellow. There was only one bird they could be - gold finches. Over the coming days, I saw gold finches flying into a nearby conifer, with various things in their beaks. They were nesting in the tree. I hope their chicks came to full term and flew off to start independent lives. Possibly this happened - but small birds face so many enemies, like magpies who raid nests for eggs and baby chicks, and the many birds of prey that seize small birds on the wing. Gold finches love eating seeds. Their German name is "Distel fink" which means thistle finch. They specialise in eating seeds of flowers in the daisy family, like thistles and burdock. The male goldfinch, with its thinner, longer beak is one of the few birds able to get the seeds from teazle heads, but this is at some risk, as birds get caught on the inward pointing spikes and die. First time I saw gold finches was before the open cast mine beyond Coursers Road was started. I was wandering across the fields and came upon a rickety old barn used for storage. Gold finches and their near relatives green finches were flying in and out. Gold finches settle at woodland margins, where they like to commute to gardens, with their wide variety of flowers, whose seeds they eat, as well as loads of insects, which they feed their nestlings. To encourage gold finches in your garden it helps to have a bird-bath, kept permanently filled with water. Goldfinches, as seed eaters get very thirsty. Goldfinches prefer a warm climate. They seldom visit Scotland, and in Europe, the furthest north they get is southern Sweden. The ones we see in spring; autumn time they fly to southern Europe, and North Africa. There, people have a less enlightened attitude to wildlife, they are captured in cages called "chardonneret" , which is the French word for goldfinch. They are then either kept in cages as song birds, or end up in the cooking pot. Baby gold finches are drab birds, mainly dark green and grey, with the only bright colour being their black and yellow wingtips. You might come across birds resembling goldfinches, except the colours are more muted. These could be hybrids between a goldfinch and a canary. This happens when canaries and goldfinches are kept together in the same cage. In passing, it is illegal to capture wild birds and keep them in captivity. Whenever you see wild birds in zoos and wild-life parks in Britain, they were either born to severely injured birds that could not be released into the wild, or are descended from wild birds held before the relevant laws were passed. When you see a group of goldfinches together, you can distinguish the males because they are slightly brighter coloured than the other birds, and the red on their faces extends behind their eyes. For years, goldfinches have been rare in our village, yet this year they are quite common. Again, for the last few years I have rarely heard the distinctive cry of the cuckoo, yet this year they are quite common. Another thing, birds seem to be singing much louder these days. This is not my imagination, because professional ornithologists are saying exactly the same thing. One thing is certain, nature is always changing and there are always new things to be learnt