W HEN the summer is over, there is not so much food for the birds, and some begin to go away. Those which live on flying insects go first. The cuckoo is generally gone by the end of July. The swifts start off in August, and about the middle of September the swallows begin to find very few flies, gnats, or moths, and get ready for their long journey.
If you keep a sharp look-out you may see the Swallows and Martins collecting, about the 15th of September, on some church tower, or perhaps on the roof of a barn, and flying off together to roost in the trees. This they never do in the summer. Then they sleep on the rafters of some barn, or under the eaves of a roof, always keeping near buildings. But before they fly away for the winter they gather together in the trees, or on the willows in the osier beds.
Then some morning very early they all disappear. They have started to fly steadily in large flocks, for hundreds of miles, to Africa, where they will have warm weather, and insects to eat, all the winter. You will not see them again till next April.
The little Fly-catchers and the Nightingales go away about the same time as the swallows, and the Chiff-chaff goes in October. Some of the Wagtails and Robins go too, but not nearly all.
A great many birds shift from place to place in England during the autumn, for food begins to be scarce, and they wander in search of it. Many thrushes and redwings come to us from Norway and Germany, and robins, finches, and other birds come from the north of England to the south. They leave the cold moors and mountains of Cumberland and Yorkshire to feed in Hampshire and Devonshire, where they can find more berries, such as hips and haws, holly-berries, juniper-berries, sloes, and the red berries of the mountain ash. So if you live in the south of England, you may see more robins, thrushes, chaffinches, and yellow-hammers in the winter than you did in the summer.
You will find it very interesting to watch for the different birds, and see when they come and go, and whether you see many or few of any one kind.
You will notice that in winter the little birds move about in flocks, instead of alone, or in pairs, as they do in the summer, when they have their nests and families. In November you will see a great many larks together. The cock-chaffinches sometimes fly in one flock, and the hen-chaffinches in another. The Finches, too, fly in parties; yellow-hammers, greenfinches, and goldfinches all together. They hunt about for seeds, and sleep on the ground, or in the ivy bushes. But the Bullfinches, with their lovely blue-black wings and bright red breasts, keep together in small flocks, flying in a line one after the other along the hedges.
These flocks of different birds flit about from one field to another, keeping together, and scattering over one place at a time, looking for food.
When many of our summer birds have gone to the sunny south, other birds come to us from still colder countries. The Fieldfares fly over from Norway and Sweden. You may see them, in parties of about forty or fifty, wheeling round in the air, and settling down on a field to look for grubs and seeds. They are pretty grey birds with brown-red wings and buff speckled breasts. But you cannot often get near enough to see them, for they are very shy. If they hear a noise they are off in a moment, and over the hedge into the next field, where they drop down again to feed. They sleep on the ground; and go back to Norway to build their nests in the spring.
A great many Starlings come from Norway and Germany in the winter, and join those which live with us always. They often fly about with the rooks, but sometimes in flocks by themselves pecking in the fields and chattering one to another.
So when the song-birds are silent in the winter, you can look out for all these other birds and find out where they feed and sleep; when you first see them come, and when you see the last one go. But the thrush and the robin will sing all the year through, when the weather is mild.
Make a list of summer birds which you do not see in the winter. Make a list of winter birds which go away in the spring. Make another list of birds you see all the year round.