Birds of Streatham Common

By; Peter Newmark

Take a stroll around Streatham Common at any time of the year and with luck, and depending on your skills, you could see 15-20 different species of bird that reside there. Keep a list, as I do, of all the birds that you have ever seen on, or flying over, the Common and you could notch up over 60 species. Whether your interest in birds is serious or casual, April and May are the best months to be looking and listening out for them.

Spring is the time that the Common's birds are in their finest plumage and voice. The males are trying to look and sing their best to attract a mate. Robins, blackbirds and wrens – three of the most frequent species you will encounter – are all bursting with song. Another common species, the tiny wren, will be harder to see but very easy to hear, as it declares its presence in the undergrowth in ridiculously loud trilling tones. Watch closely and you will see birds gathering nesting material. Starlings take it from grassy areas before flying back to their nest in the loft or roof of a nearby house: crows will be carrying sticks in their beaks to their tree-top nests. And blue tits and great tits will be taking moss and twigs into some of the 30+ nest boxes on trees around the Common.

Spring is also the time to look for summer visitors to the Common. Two warblers will arrive from Africa or southern Europe to stay to breed. These are chiffchaffs,  which reach here at the end of March, and blackcaps, which arrive a week or two later. Other visitors are just passing over London on their way to the countryside. Some, like swallows and house martins, will do no more than fly over. Others will drop in for a few hours or a day to rest and refuel. For example, occasionally a cuckoo can be heard in the woods for a morning.

There are also a few winter visitors to the Common. The most obvious of these are gulls, a flock of which hangs out near the A23. Look at them closely and you will see two, three or even four different species of gull among the flock. Other visitors that usually turn up are redwings or fieldfares, members of the thrush family that come here from Scandinavia in search of food and relative warmth. 

All year round, the most obvious birds on the Common are inevitably the largest and noisiest. Crows, magpies, wood pigeons and ring-necked parakeets fit this category. The bright green parakeets, which arrived here around 20 years ago, nest in holes in trees, but when not nesting they head off every evening to join several thousand others that descend on Mitcham Common to roost overnight. They are not, of course, natives to the UK but derived from a few pairs that escaped in the London area, started breeding and have been rapidly spreading ever since.
Peter Newmark