Nature Notes: Decline and fall

The lapwing

The lapwing

First published in Nature Notes Richmond and Twickenham Times: Photograph of the Author by

A few years ago I bought for £1 at a charity shop a wonderful book entitled "BIRDS ONE SHOULD KNOW, BENEFICIAL AND MISCHIEVOUS", written by Rev. Theodore Wood.

Published in 1921, graced by superb illustrations by Roland Green, the book features what were in those far off days common birds of countryside and garden. Many well known species included then are still around today, but several the author feels "one should know" are rarely seen and in steep decline.

For example, Rev. Wood lists the red-backed shrike, or butcher bird, as a regular summer visitor but today it is extinct as a breeding species in England. Another bird, the nightjar, "often heard on summer evenings"can now only be found in a few extensive heathlands.

The house sparrow population has crashed recently but ninety years ago it was abundant in the "smokiest towns and open country.

The hawfinch was another favourite if "rather mischievous" feeding on garden crops as did the handsome bullfinch fond of cherry and plum blossom but has anyone seen either lately?

Other species common in 1921 but now sadly declining were cuckoo, house martin, spotted flycatcher, skylark, barn owl and lapwing (pictured) On the positive side, the author makes no mention of gt. spotted woodpecker, jackdaw, goldcrest, nuthatch and others whose populations have prospered.

I wonder what Rev. Wood would have made of parakeets, in no way beneficial, every bit mischievous and a bird that I for one, would rather not know.

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