November Talk Summary – Garden Birds by Roger Beck

Nearly 40 CHAPS members enjoyed an informative and entertaining talk on ‘Garden Birds’ by Roger Beck after their AGM at their November meeting.

At CHAPS’ last talk of the year, Roger, a former leader of the Guildford Branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, shared with CHAPS members his enthusiasm and knowledge of the birds we might see in our gardens. He also reminded us of the local jewel in the crown when it comes to spotting birds – Thursley Common with its stone chats, great grey warblers and dartford warblers. Further afield Pulborough Brooks is excellent for nightingales but only for a short period at the end of May, beginning of June.

Roger had both a stunning range of slides and an ability to mimic bird songs so we all enjoyed both a visual and auditory experience. He gave the Latin names for the birds – not to test our scholarly understanding but to help describe the particular characteristics of the birds. As an example, the male chaffinch’s Latin name is fringilla coelebs which translates as celibate bachelor finch because in winter the females migrate south, leaving the males behind on their own.

Roger explained that birds need food such as insects and seeds, water for drinking and washing and shelter from predators. We can help them by planting suitable trees, shrubs and flowers, by providing supplementary food such as seeds, nuts and fat balls throughout the year on bird tables (both high and low), by making fresh water available and by providing nest boxes. He also encouraged us to let nature takes it course rather than being over tidy in our gardens as a bit of wasteland is great habitat for birds. Roger said some decent binoculars are a good investment.

Some interesting facts we learnt include:

  • The robin’s heart beats 500 times per minute when resting and 1000 times when active – compared with the human’s 70 beats per minute
  • Seabirds can live for up to 50 years whereas the life span of a blue tit is one year and a black bird maybe 5 years
  • The base of the bill in a male magpie is blue and in a female magpie it is pink
  • Song thrushes can break a snail on an anvil – the only bird we know of that can do this
  • Global warming is threatening bird reproductive behavior
  • The nest of the long tailed tit takes 3 weeks to build, is joined with gossamer and spiders’ threads and is lined with 1500 feathers; it is the size of a tennis ball and incredibly strong
  • Nuthatches are the only birds that can walk up and down trees and they have large feet
  • The five note call of the wood pigeon – number 2 on our national bird list – sounds like ‘my feet hurt Betty’
  • The eagle owl is the world’s largest owl with a wing span of 6’

Many members commented that this was probably CHAPS best talk of the year and all were inspired and fascinated by Roger’s passion and encyclopedic knowledge. You can find out more about the R.S.P.B. at