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Monday, February 05, 2007


The Twite Carduelis flavirostris is a small curry-coloured finch, closely related to, and not unlike, the more familiar Linnet. In summer they are to be found breeding in mountains (notably the Pennines), in Scotland and on the Scottish Islands (Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland).

A Twite, the curry-coloured relative of the Linnet

In winter they descend from the hills, and come further south, to feed on the seeds of saltmarsh grasses around the East and West coasts of England. At the end of my street in Askam there is a nice area of saltmarsh that attracts a flock of up to 200 Twite every winter.

Saltmarsh at Askam. In winter, Twite feed among the boats

It has always been of interest to ornithologists to know if the birds appearing at any one marsh in winter are from a particular breeding population. For example, do the birds that breed in the Pennines favour the Norfolk or the Lancashire marshes in winter? And do the birds from the Hebrides go to different places from the Pennine birds, or do they all mix up?

A group of Twite feeding on a saltmarsh in Winter. But where do they come from?

This is a case where ringing the birds will help us to understand their movements. Fortunately flocks of Twite can be easily attracted to food (niger seed is ideal) and can be caught by a Whoosh! net. It is called a Whoosh! net because the net is set under tension from rubber cords; when birds are in the baited area, the trigger is pulled and the rubber flies the net over the feeding flock, making a Whoosh! sound as it goes. On a good day, up to 60 birds can be caught with one pull of the trigger.

The effectiveness of the ringing is greatly improved if birds are additionally fitted with coloured rings, using a combination of colours that indicate the location and year of ringing. For example, birds ringed at Askam last winter had a yellow ring fitted. The ring colours can be observed as the birds come down to feed.

Twite feeding. The yellow ring can clearly be seen on the bird on the left
Photo Ken Hindmarch

So what have we discovered? Well, we know that the breeding populations are generally faithful to their wintering grounds. Birds which were colour-ringed at Askam and Lancashire have been seen in the Hebrides, whilst the Pennine breeders favour the saltmarshes of Eastern England. However, there have been instances of birds being seen on both sides of the country, so there is clearly still plenty to learn as we continue with this research.


Blogger Maalie said...

And no jokes bout this being a "twite interesting post" please. I've heard them all before. In fact, I invented most of 'em.

9:44 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

I never knew there was so much to know about twites. You failed to mention the twite seen recently in north east Cheshire, close to the Derbyshire border. It was last seen rummaging around the Amenity Tip on Anson Road.

10:21 am  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

if only i knew where these places are!
Thanks for another good post Maalie

11:50 am  
Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

Educational, informative and entertaining blog post. A+.

P.S. Adam 4 Claire is finished!

3:45 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I do love those saltmarshes. I love those natural, unspoilt terrains. Just hope bird flu doesn't wing its way there from Suffolk.

8:31 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Very interesting and that yellow ring is easily spotted!

Just how bad is that bird flu there??

5:24 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Ju's Little Sister: I would love you to see our Amenity Site. It is really picturesque, with loads of wild life rummaging around.

Maalie: When you say it is 'curry coloured', do you mean Thai Green Curry, Thai Red Curry, Indian Beige, Chinese Yellow or Indonesian Puce?

5:35 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Just been back to admire your twites, this is a new species to me too. I like your "twite" joke too, it is true, of course.

3:11 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Maalie, You will be pleased to know I have fed the birds this morning and my rabbit is happily munching away on a feast of cabbage leaves in his hutch. I'm not sure he will like playing in the snow, but we will bring him in the house later - he is very spoilt and molly coddled.

10:50 am  
Blogger simon said...

thanks for the call today mate!

5:08 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

While on the subject of twites and long distance phone calls, have you heard of the new online messaging called Twitter - I kid you not, I have a couple of friends who use it constantly, they say it is very, very cheap. Though you probably use Skype to call Aussie.

5:57 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

When is Estelle going to mend her blog site? 度用ぃ毛ティsJapanese?

3:57 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Ellee, I've heard of Skype, but not twitter!

Simon, there's a lot of hype about the bird flue here. A lot of turkeys have been knocked off (they must have thought Christmas was coming early) but I think it's been isolated to one farm. NO wild birds seem to have been implicated.

8:46 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I see that the England team have been having some wild celebrations in Sydney.

6:02 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

If you and Simon both sign up to Skype, i believe it's free, you can make free calls to each other, so it's worth signing up. I know nothing about Twitter, except my tech friend thinks it's brilliant, especially cost wises.

3:10 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I spent the evening in an internet cafe in Cambridge giving a blog demo to a women's social club and I showed them your site, Simon's too, they were most impressed, so you may have a few more fans soon.

10:55 pm  
Blogger simon said...


6:51 am  
Blogger Dr Michelle Tempest said...

What a delightful post. Last time I visited the Hebrides I saw several twites - although it's only through reading your blog that I have now identified them and learnt something about them. Thanks so much - amazing birds. All very best. Michelle

12:51 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

It would seem that Dr Tempest is up with the dawn chorus.

8:15 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Ellee, I don't think Simon and I are organised enough to have twitter etc. We tend to call each other on the spur of the moment, after a few beers or when one of our respective teams is doing well / badly, often in the dead of night for each other. Like "PONTING IS OUT FOR ONLY 7 RUNS".
Maybe we need the help of someone like Dr Tempest...

10:41 pm  
Blogger Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Hi Maalie, As for help from me, well I'm afraid I only know that everyone talks very highly about Skype (which incidentally I think has some Cambridge heritage). As for the dawn chorus...not sure....but I have to admit that I really enjoyed bird watching whilst visiting the Hebrides. I can see I shall be learning more about birds by reading your blog. Great work and fab pictures. All the very best. Michelle.

11:05 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Michelle, I was thinking more of psychiatric help...

11:44 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

maalie, the Principal of the school I am at had skype on his computer and used to use it all the time when his son was living in London. I don't know how it works precisely, but I think they just used to converse if they found each other to be online at the same time.

4:50 am  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Skype uses a concept called Voice over IP. Basically it uses the same route to your computer as an email does - and an email is free, right? So the program can access a known IP (which it only knows if you give it the username of someone else who has registered) and make the equivalent of a phone call between you and them.

If you are both online and are both running skype, then you can send sound files to each other in real time, instead of sending emails to each other.
That service is free, and you can download the skype software to do so on its official website. You also need a phone which plugs into your computer and can handle VoIP, or use the speakers and mic from your computer, or if you are like me I have a headset with mic as well.

You can also pay a cheap rate to make calls from your VoIP phone through skype to a landline anywhere in the world. The system follows the (free) internet path to the local phone exchange, then makes a local call to the person's standard landline phone. Though the call is free as it is local, skype charges you for the service. (probably because they have to pay to use the exchange or something.) In all, they make for either free, or very cheap international calls. I would imagine that twitter is similar.

Take a peek at

8:27 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Maalie, Happy Valentine's, hope you have a lovely day.

12:32 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Let's hope the twite's don't become an endangered species due to global warming. Thank you for all your comments, I am overwhelmed by all the response and hope to get a chance to pose some of the questions - though I may only be allowed one.

3:30 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Maalie..... ten wicket loss.... first time that has happened to the Aussies for 600 international one day matches according to the commentators. And guess which side handed it to them?

7:27 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Maalie, hope you are having a lovely weekend with Tamara :-)

5:56 pm  
Blogger Big Dave said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:10 pm  
Blogger Big Dave said...

You don't have copyright on Twite Jokes... We're Twite interested in Twite in Ireland. If anyone knows of any Twites breeding in Ireland please contact me on my blog site, we're conducting a national Twite survey, and there's a Ph.D study also.

7:15 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Did you manage to secure a pair of Tamara's ballet shoes too? Hope you had a good time.

6:33 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I have just received my study guide and info for my paper in NZ fauna. It looks like my knowledge of NZ birds is in for a real kick-start. I have four weeks to learn the sounds of 30 birds, and to be able to visually recognise 50 birds. So I will be busy!
We go for a weekend field trip up to Hawke's Bay with the internal students in a month. That looks interesting. And the whole study guide looks very well organised. I am really looking forward to the paper!

4:37 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I think you should know that having played my CD of bird sounds, I realise I only know three absolutely out of context. One of those three though, interestingly, is the NI Kiwi, as I lived in Northland back in 1980, out in the country, and used to hear the kiwi most nights. Quite a few of the other sounds are very familiar from tramping, though I never quite identified which bird made them. Some of the other sounds are very familiar, but similar to other birds so I just have to make sure I differentiate. That leaves me about three weeks and 15 unknown. I can see I will be serenading myself to sleep with a CD of birdsongs a few nights!

9:10 am  

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