It is 14th Feb - St Valentine's Day... and love is certainly in the air. Today has been a lovely day with a real feeling of spring. Birds seem to be singing everywhere and our garden in Sycamore Hill seems alive with Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch song.
And have you noticed how lovely all these birds are appearing at the moment? Yes? Well it's not just the lovely light of the day (although that helps). At this time of year many birds are undergoing their first moult of the season. Most birds have two moults each year. The first is immediately following the breeding season. During this post-nuptial moult, birds grow an entirely new set of feathers including the big wing and tail feathers.
In spring, they undergo another, partial moult, during which they replace head and body feathers. This gives birds their immaculate summer plumage. So males not only sound well but look great too! But singing and looking good isn't always the best way to impress potential partners. Birds of prey perform slow aerial glides over their territory instead of singing from a tree. And today, on St. Valentine's Day, Hazel and I were treated to a wonderful display by our local Buzzards.
The two birds appeared over the hill to the east, flying and gliding in perfect formation, side-by-side. Then, they broke away from each other and began a slow, circling glide, one above the other. They circled for a few moments before the bird above closed it's wings and dropped down to the same level as the bird below. They then chased each other in a very disciplined glide before repeating the manoeuvre several times.
Then there was the grand finale. As the bird above dropped down to meet the lower bird, the lower bird turned on its back and the pair locked claws for a split moment, dropping through the air before breaking off. This seemed to be the final act as they then separated. One flew off over the fields to the north while the other, obviously 'loved-up' by the experience, continued to circle over the house. It called several times before drifting higher and out of view.
Such aerial displays are the ways that birds of prey pair-bond. It is a demonstration of aerial skill and trust between two birds. One aggressive move on the part of either bird, and serious injury could take place. That two birds trust each other enough to lock claws and fall as one, is a sure sign that this pair of Buzzards were already paired and ready for the breeding season ahead.