Nature watch, with Ron Freethy

IN recent years naturalists including myself have spent many happy hours studying wildlife in our towns.

In East Lancashire most of our town parks are havens for wintering wildfowl and some factories including Oswaldtwistle Mills have created small nature trails to encourage nature to become "townies."

Some animals including badgers and especially foxes have made their homes in large gardens, cemeteries and parks.

In many large buildings, especially churches, bats and especially pipistrelles have for centuries been residents in churches and chapels. These creatures should be welcomed as their droppings are dry and contain no bacteria. Indeed they provide excellent (and free) roof insulation.

Two birds are so well adapted to town and city life that they are becoming a nuisance and in the case of the street pigeon, something of a health hazard.

This is also true of the starling which at times in winter, gather in flocks of many, many thousands in towns.

Both pigeons and starlings are attractive species BUT there are just too many of them. The street pigeon's not too distance ancestor is the rock dove which still lives in crevices of sea cliffs. To the ornithologist the words 'dove' and 'pigeon' mean the same thing.

The pigeon is the only bird species which feeds its young on milk which is almost identical to that life-giving liquid produced by mammals. The milk is produced in the crop and the young drink it by pushing the bill into the mouth of the adult.

Over the centuries, the rock dove learned to live in city and town buildings. There is no difference between a rock ledge and a window-sill or a bridge girder. They have interbred with some ornamental pigeons and now survive easily by persuading town people to share their food with them!

Starlings do not usually grab food from the hand of well wishers but they are agile enough to grab any morsel which falls to the ground.

Next time you see a starling have a good look at it and imagine that it was rare.

If the sun is shining see how the plumage has a glorious shine and pattern to it. The phrase "familiarly breeds contempt" is very true.

Not so long ago the house sparrow was also regarded as a pest but over the last few years the "little nuisance" has declined dramatically.

It is now described as a "perky intelligent species which demands our admiration!" It was always perky and intelligent and it becomes ever more attractive the rare it becomes.

There is some suggestion that the house sparrow population is increasing again.

Hopefully, it will soon become "a little nuisance."

All this shows that wildlife is important in towns and cities. It is a lesson to us all.

Always enjoy your jaunts in the East Lancashire countryside, but if you live in a town your enjoyment starts in your own backyard.