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Late Night Out?: DIVERSIFLY BLOG #8

or early start to your day? and you have a chance to see the birds of the night…or hear them….

This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details on the project go here

from RSPB

Uncertain about whether owls would set up home in urban territories, as successfully as say the peregrine falcon I decided to start this blog by googling “night birds in town” and immediately, and for me surprisingly read the following (see the sentence in bold below) on the RSPB website:

Because even low light intensities can trigger song in some birds, and because they continue singing until the last rays of light have faded in the evening, it is easy to see how the singing period could easily be extended into the night. This is indeed what often happens with song thrushes and dunnocks, and doubtless many other species, but the unrivalled kings as daytime birds turned night-time songsters are robins.
Robins are insectivorous birds that are well adapted to foraging in dim light, and even continue to feed under artificial light well into the night. It is one of the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop singing at night.
With this tendency to be active at low light, robins can be easily triggered into full song by a streetlight or any kind of floodlighting. Since robins keep territories all year round, they also sing all round the year.
This has resulted in dozens of reports of nightingales singing in the middle of the winters night and other equally unlikely times and places, which have all turned out to be robins. In fact, the robin is the most common night-time songster in Britain’s towns and gardens.
There are other triggers, besides light, that can bring about night-time song in robins and some other birds. If a bird is suddenly awakened by a sudden noise like thunder, fireworks, earthquake, wartime bombing etc, even a sudden shaking of its roosting tree, it may burst into song.
Robins can even be triggered to join in the singing of other nocturnal birds, notably the nightingale, to which it is distantly related.

As biologist Davide Dominoni told the BBC in 2015, urban lights may convince robins that daytime never ends — and their extra singing isn’t necessarily harmless. “Singing is a costly behaviour; it takes energy,” he said. “So by increasing their song output, there might be some energetic costs.” Reducing light pollution may help, although research has found daytime city noise can also drive robins to sing at night.

The robin has a heart rate of a thousand beats per minute

You may have seen a robin nest in a nutty (from our point of view) place… Birds Britannica (Cocker & Mabey) list, amongst others an abandoned kettle – even an unmade bed (while its owner had breakfasr, after which the birds were left to raise young successfully) – now thats kindness.. I don’t think I could give my own bed up.. even for a robin!

Here is a poem about the robin, by the most prolific of writers – Anon…

This is a theory of what Who killed Cock Robin? is all about, plus the rhyme itself

and here: The Robin by Khalil Gibran

Robins are not just for Christmas… the male defends its territory all year long…

The robin has a beautiful song, and also looks so striking which is really unusual in Britain isn’t it?

Take the famous Nightingale, for example
A pretty but plain looking bird I think we all would agree… plus a notorious skulker so even if you werent happy to sit back and drink its song in, you will have a hard time catching sight of it…

I have become very aware of Edward Thomas recently, mainly because of Matthew Oates’ devotion to both his prose and poetry. On the nightingale Edward Thomas says this:

Beautiful as the notes are for their quality and order, it is their inhumanity that gives them utmost fascination, the mysterious sense which they bear to us that earth is something more than a human estate, that there are things not human yet of great honour and power in the world.”

H.E.Bates said:

It is a performance made up, very often, more of silence than of utterance. The very silences have a kind of passion in them, a sense of breathlessness and restraint, of restraint about to be magically broken.

They, like robins sing in the day…  It may not surprise you to know that the robin and nightingale are closely related.

You can read the lyrics to Vera Lynn’s A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square here

John Keats – Ode to a Nightingale is here

Here is a literary essay about the Nightingale, by Bethan Roberts for the University of Liverpool

from pete whieldon photography website

From those of you living in one of Britain’s towns and cities I wonder which and how often you see an owl? They must have adapted to urban life – but I have only ever seen a barn owl in the countryside – caught glowing in the car’s headlights, or much more satisfactorily heading straight up a field to within a six foot touch of it – silent, large and yes ghost-like; or as happened one winter at 4:15 for several weeks – flying round the perimeter of a field and diving when it caught sight of a shrew or mouse… It is also known as a Screech Owl.. if you have ever heard it, you will already know – it is as far from the cosy twit, twoo conversation of tawny owls as you can get – and much more suited to the soundtrack of a Hammer House of Horror film…

Katrina von Grouw’s The Unfeathered Bird is one of my favourite art books and also one of my favourite Natural History books too! By drawing the skeletons of many many birds she has recognised and realised things about the birds that no other scientist has done. She is actually “Art and Science hand-in-hand” personified…

In her chapter on owls she opens with:

As nocturnal birds or prey, owls have features associated with being predators and features associated with being nocturnal. Now this could mean that they are related to the day-feeding birds of prey or to the night-feeding nightjars. Or these could a;; have arisen as adaptations to their lifestyle, meaning that they may be related to neither. Taxonomists are still uncertain where owls actually belong, though DNA evidence strongly suggests affinities with nightjars.

   Mary Oliver wrote a poem about a Barn Owl – with comments by poet Robert Peake

(picture by Gordon Yapp)Mary Oliver wrote a poem about a Little Owl


and a poem by Edward Thomas:

By Paul Kielty


Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Here are some images I have found online:


And here are a few links with some more information :

BBC Nature on the Robin

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) on the Nightingale

Barn Owl Trust – facts about Barn Owls

RSPB tells us about Nightjars


Nadia x


   This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project –  DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here

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