Clifton and Hotwells
Improvement Society (CHIS)

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CHIS Guide to Birds in Clifton

Richard Bland

Large Gulls

Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull populations have been expanding in Bristol since 1970, and are increasing in the Clifton area. In July they can be aggressive to people and pets as they seek to protect their very vulnerable young as they learn to fly. The Council is trying to reduce population growth by the use of plastic eggs in nests on accessible roofs, with some success. The Gulls essentially thrive because we leave masses of waste food form fast food outlets on the streets , and cafes still leave food waste out in plastic bags over the weekend. A new firm can be found at which offers help, at a price. If you are interested contact Richard Freeman at"
eagle owl

Nov 08: Eagle Owl living in Woodland Rd (opposite Biological Sciences of all departments!). An inspiring huge bird!- seems to subsist on squirrels

Clifton has a wealth of mature gardens and the structure of its bird population reflects that. Evidence from local surveys suggests that it has a greater variety of species than most areas of the city of Bristol and is particularly notable for the number of Green Woodpeckers, Jays, Coal Tits, Jackdaws and Wrens recorded. It is also notable for the almost complete absence of House Sparrows and for the rapidity of the recent decline in Starlings. 22 Clifton residents supported Bristol Birdwatch last winter and recorded 39 different species in their gardens. One of the most frequent is the Blackcap. This is now a regular winter visitor to the area from Germany. As a result of the generosity of local residents there has been a genetic change in the make-up of a population of German Blackcaps that instructs them to fly North West on migration instead of South West. This is micro-evolution in action. Some become resident in particular gardens between December and March. They especially enjoy fat balls, but will feast on berries first.

The cliffs of the Avon Gorge provide an eyrie for Peregrine Falcons. They arrived in the Gorge in 1990, since when over 30 young have been reared. They can often be seen flying over the Village with their young in July. They sometimes use the Wills Tower of the University as a roosting site in winter. Kestrels and Jackdaws also nest on the cliff face. Feral Pigeons nest in caves as their remote ancestors, the Rock Doves, did, and they form a ready food source for the Peregrines. Another cliff-nesting species is the Raven, which arrived with the Peregrine, and can also be heard flying over the Village giving its deep-throated call. It usually nests on the Somerset side.

There used to be a flock of up to 80 Feral Pigeons on Clifton Green but they have dispersed in recent years, some to Victoria Square. There was in the Zoo a far bigger flock, which has been reduced by changes in the Zoo's feeding regime, and Whiteladies Road still supports several distinct flocks. Every Feral Pigeon flock is supported by a distinct food source and often by an individual feeder.

There is a pair of Sparrowhawks in the Village - I was once shown their nest in the Glen - and there is a regular pair in Royal Fort gardens. Tawny Owls can be heard calling in October, and may well nest in the area. Buzzards nest in Leigh Woods and are often seen on this side of the Gorge, sometimes criss-crossing below the Suspension Bridge. Last winter a Merlin was reported round the Promenade.

The Zoo was one of the very earliest sites for Collared Doves in the 1960s and for a time it supported a substantial winter roost, but since those days they have spread to every area of the city. Their local population is still expanding. The Zoo pond is one of the few sites of open water in the Village, and Mallard fly into it from the Avon. It also supports wild Moorhen.

I have had reports of Kingfishers using the long pond in Goldney gardens in the autumn.

Hotwells was the site of the very first Gull's nest in Bristol, in 1970. Today there are probably over 2000 pairs and they nest right aross the city from Avonmouth to Brislington, from Fishponds to Hengrove. About a third are Herring Gulls, whose juveniles stay over the winter and two thirds are lesser Black-backs, whose young all travel to North Africa, usually for the first two years of their lives. Numbers have not grown as fast in Clifton as elsewhere as they seem to prefer gently sloping corrugated industrial roofing to chimney pots. Their numbers are growing by at least 10% a year and, as they can live to be 40 years old, they are set to become quite a problem.

The population of song-birds on the Downs round the Observatory and Promenade is remarkably stable. Ten years of observations have shown only small changes in most species, though there has been an increase in Wood Pigeon, and Nuthatches have appeared as a new species in that time. Blackbird numbers have fluctuated more than most, but there has been no trend.

The mud of the Gorge is much cleaner than it used to be and so less used by Gulls and Crows, but wading birds can still be seen, especially in cold weather in winter. There have been Redshank and Lapwings under the Suspension Bridge, and parties of Black-headed Gulls as well as Mallard can usually be seen. Cormorant fly along the Gorge on their way to feed in the City Docks or the New Cut. As many as eight have been seen together. Herons are often on the mud as well, but also raid garden ponds in the early dawn in March and April.

In September and October during migration, Swallows and House Martins, which are never normally seen in the village, fly over, and Meadow Pipits and Skylarks can be seen over the Observatory. Pied Wagtails are usually a winter visitor, though this year they bred, and were feeding their young on Clifton Green. Flocks of Greenfinch and Chaffinch can be seen when it is a good beechmast year. Goldfinches are increasingly seen in gardens if Nyger seed is provided. Redwings are common in cold spells, especially on short grass until it freezes, and they then strip berries. In warm days in March they can be heard in the trees on Clifton Green burbling a strange song. Fieldfare are much less frequent, but are driven in during cold snaps.

Much has changed since 1935 when the delightful booklet was published on the Birds of Clifton Downs by an eighteen year old resident, Averil Morley, but surprisingly much has also remained the same.

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