Sunday, 27 May 2018

Birdwatching from hospital - without binoculars

Saturday the 5th of May 2018 was the day chosen by the organisers of eBird (a global online bird database run by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, in the US) for their “Global Big Day”. 
On this day they encouraged birdwatchers (of all levels of skill and enthusiasm) from around the world to get out and see or hear as many birds as they could and record them on eBird. 

I was in hospital that day, having my fifth lot of chemotherapy and wasn’t allowed off the ward, so I spent as long as I could standing in the window counting all the birds I could see or hear. I didn’t use binoculars because my window was directly opposite another wing of the hospital containing wards, offices etc and I didn’t want people to think I was spying on them. 

I was able to watch during three periods: from 11am to 11.45; from 6.18pm to 6.23; and from 7.59pm to 8.29. During the whole day I recorded fifteen species. 

The species and minimum number seen or heard during the day were:

Mallard                                 1
Black-headed Gull                2
Herring Gull                         7
Lesser Black-backed Gull    1
Feral Pigeon                         4
Woodpigeon                         5
Jackdaw                               1
Carrion Crow                       2
Swallow [Barn Swallow]    3
House Martin                       3
Blackbird                             2
Starling                                 4
Pied Wagtail                         3
Goldfinch                             2
House Sparrow                    1

Given that I didn’t have binoculars and my view was mostly of a hospital wing, a small courtyard, a distant view of a car park (with plenty of bushes) and some trees even further away, I was quite pleased with that. 

However, I thought the low numbers of Swallows and House Martins, and the complete absence of Swifts was a bit disappointing. It was a warm spring day and in days gone by I would have expected to see good numbers of these birds flying round, feeding on aerial insects, even in an urban area. The low numbers of these species could be because of various reasons or a combination of them, such as habitat loss in their African wintering grounds and/or their U.K. breeding grounds, expansion of the Sahara Desert, Spring hunting in the Mediterranean, absence of nesting sites on buildings in towns and cities, decreased numbers of aerial insects because of pesticides and/or lack of suitable breeding habitat for the insects. Some of these factors could well be linked to human-induced climate change. 

In an aside from birds, one interesting (but not very welcome) thing that happened during my count was that I managed to get sunburnt, from just standing in the window for an hour and twenty minutes. 
My chemotherapy makes me more susceptible to sunburn but I wasn’t expecting to need to use sunblock while I was in hospital!


  1. There are loads of birds diving around in the air here in Northern Greece. I am pleased that I have learnt enough to know that they're either swifts, swallows or martins but I have trouble knowing which are which.

  2. If their wings are swept back along their bodies for quite a lot of the time they are flying, they will be swallows and/or martins. They are very closely related and often fly around together. There are four species you could get in Greece. Swifts (3 species available to you there) fly with their slightly curved wings stiff out from their bodies and never perch on wires or land on the ground. Alpine Swifts are massive and mostly white on the underside of the body. The other two (Common and Pallid) make high pitched screaming sounds as they fly. You could well have a mixture of several species of swallows, martins and swifts there.

  3. Thanks for that Colin. I did think that the ones making high pitched screams must be swifts. They dive around like fighter jets.

    I was thinking that when you looked through your hospital window, you didn't see any adaptors flying by?