Ever heard that birds don’t need feeding in summer? Or that peanuts aren’t suitable for them? Or that fruit is a no no?
These are just some of the questions the RSPB is asked at this time of year and the wildlife charity wants to clear them up once and for all.
Birds don’t need feeding in summer: False
In winter, supplementary food is often the only option for birds as natural food sources like berries get buried under snow and ice and insects are few and far between. But in summer birds will still be grateful for extra treats, as many are busy raising their young. The RSPB recommends little and often, and says that birds probably won’t eat quite as much as during the colder months.
Peanuts are fine for birds: True
Peanuts can be fed to birds but with caution at some times of year. They are often difficult for young birds to digest because of the size, so the RSPB suggests alternative food like sunflower hearts and live food during the breeding season, or crushing them into smaller pieces.
Peanuts can be high in a natural toxin, which can kill birds, so buy from a reputable dealer to guarantee freedom from aflatoxin.
Peanuts are rich in fat and are popular with tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers and siskins.
Salted peanuts are dangerous to birds: True
Salt is toxic to birds so salted peanuts are completely unsuitable.
Bread and milk are good for birds and hedgehogs: False
Many animals are intolerant of the lactose in milk which can lead to diarrhoea, dehydration and death. It is also bad for hedgehog’s teeth. Milk is iron deficient so in excess can cause dietary imbalance. In drought conditions animals may drink milk rather than water, to their detriment. It is bad for garden hygiene and the spread of disease as it will readily curdle if left for any length of time.
Whilst bread won’t do birds any harm, it doesn’t offer any nutritional value either and acts as a ‘filler.’ Crumbled up cake or plain biscuits would be more suitable and porridge oats are popular with many birds too.
Hedgehog by Nigel Blake (www.rspb-images.com)
Fruit is bad for birds: False
Fruit is an excellent supplementary food for many birds, particularly slightly soft apples and pears and soaked fruits. Rotten fruit isn’t as suitable – birds don’t like food that’s past its best anymore than we do!
Mealworms shouldn’t be fed live: false
Live mealworms are readily available and are a great source of food for birds like robins, blackbirds and tits. Many people believe that they need to be chopped up and shouldn’t be fed live, but this is incorrect.
Val Osborne, Head of Wildlife Enquiries at the RSPB says: “At this time of year we get so many calls from people wanting to know what the ‘rules’ are on bird feeding. In short, it’s no different to any other time of year and birds will appreciate our help. They probably won’t take the huge amounts of extra food that they do in winter, as there is a lot more natural food around.
“But instead, during the breeding season especially, they need to find even more food for their chicks so just bear that in mind and break things into smaller pieces, or use suitable feeders where necessary.”
For more information on what to feed garden birds visit www.rspb.org.uk
To buy a range of bird foods visit www.rspbshop.co.uk. We also have special offers on bird food and feeders in the Minsmere shop.
(With thanks to HQ Media team for the original press release)
Guest blog by Charlotte Bishop
I am a new intern at Minsmere and I have been here for three weeks. I arrived on Sunday 3 July in glorious sunshine and after spending some time wondering when the road into Minsmere would ever end I made it to the volunteer accommodation. I was told I would have a couple of days to explore. I will admit that I am not the most accomplished bird identifier as this is a new hobby for me however I usually find people in the hides I visit very helpful. So thank you if it was any of you. I went off with my binoculars and bird book to see what I could find and to my surprise I saw a bittern and a hobby, with the latter being one of my dream species to see.
After that great success it was time to start my new role as Visitor Officer intern which meant a day of being told several names - and forgetting nearly all of them - and being told that I would be helping to organise the family days over the summer. I’m afraid you are now going to have to read me plugging this amazing day! There will be six family days in total and they are on every Thursday from 28 July to 1 September. We have lots of fun things to do from watching bird ringing, to bug hunting and practicing using binoculars ready for the family hide and much more. It is from 10 am to 4 pm and the event is free with normal entry fees applying. I am really looking forward to it and I hope the weather will be kind.
I know butterflies have been mentioned in several recent blogs, but I wanted to mention that a new butterfly trail has been opened with the Canopy Hide being a great place to see them as well as just outside the visitor centre. Recently as I have been walking to the centre I have been surrounded by beautiful red admirals which has been a real treat.
Red admiral by Ian Barthorpe
Hope to see you all soon and don’t forget the family day.
Minsmere has long been known as a great place to watch wildlife, and as somewhere where the RSPB has pioneered new conservation techniques. It’s also a popular place for photographers and wildlife artists, with our regular art and photographic exhibitions attracting lots of interest.
Last night, for one night only, Minsmere also became a live music venue, as we welcomed Kate Doubleday and band for the latest leg of her Hideaway tour.
Kate Doubleday is a talented singer/songwriter whose folk music is inspired by the natural world, especially around her home town of Borth in West Wales. Her latest EP, for example, is titled pied flycatcher, with the title track celebrating one of the special birds found at RSPB Ynys-Hir nature reserve, home of this year’s BBC Springwatch series, where Kate has spent some time volunteering.
The Hideaway tour is unique, as Kate has been performing in hides and visitor centres at RSPB reserves, in aid of the RSPB. Kate has been joined on the tour by multi-talented instrumentalists Trevor Lines (on acoustic bass and ukulele) and Dan Wilkins (guitar and kora). As well as singing, Kate plays guitar and flute.
For the Minsmere leg of her tour, the visitor centre reception was converted into an informal, cosy venue for live music in front of a small but enthusiastic audience.
As well as the pied flycatcher, Kate’s gorgeous, and at times haunting, lyrics take their inspiration from the sea, wild flowers, and her own family. Her voice is superbly complimented by the simple acoustic instruments. Dan’s kora – a West African 24 string harp (below) – has a particularly impressive sound.
Kate’s tour is continues on Monday at Thatcham Discovery Centre, Berkshire, followed by further gigs at RSPB Rye Meads, Hertfordshire, RSPB Rainham Marshes, London and RSPB Conwy, North Wales. For further details, see Kate’s website.
Every day brings more signs of the coming of autumn at Minsmere. Passage flocks of terns, waders and little gulls dominate a walk around the Scrape. South Hide is particularly productive of late, with roseate, Arctic, little, Sandwich and common terns, up to 30 little gulls, spotted redshanks, bar-tailed godwits and green sandpipers among the highlights.
The ferruginous duck remains on Island Mere, but is difficult to locate. Young marsh harriers are easily seen over the reedbed, and bitterns are still regularly seen flying over the reeds. I even managed to show one to Liz from BBC Radio Suffolk as we were preparing for an interview on Wednesday.
Another sign of autumn is the start of the annual programme of habitat management, which as usual begins on the Scrape. Wardens headed out late this week to begin cutting vegetation from the islands and banks, a work programme that will continue for the next couple of months. Most of the birds settle quickly elsewhere on the Scrape during this work, ensuring that you will still see migration happening.
We’ve opened a new butterfly trail through the woods behind Canopy Hide, coming out on the bridleway to Dunwich. This is a fantastic walk to look for purple hairstreak, white admiral and other butterflies.
Here's a question for you. It's mid July, so what season are we in?
Most people will, predictably, say summer. After all, the schools break up for the long summer holidays this week. It's music festival time - hence the huge crowds just up the road this weekend at Latitude. And there are excellent numbers of butterflies flying around now, especially red admirals and ringlets.
However, in the natural world, there are many signs that autumn is already upon us. Looking outside today, this is easy to believe - it's dark (I've had to put the light on at 11 am just to see the keyboard!), wet and windy, yet yesterday had been a lovely warm sunny summer day. OK, so that's one's easy to explain - as i mentioned earlier, it's Latitude this weekend, and rain, mud and music festivals go together like strawberries and cream or rhubard crumble and custard. (Oh dear, I sense a food theme so I may have to nip to the tearoom shortly and test out the source of lovely smells wafting this way.)
As I've mentioned in recent blogs, many birds are already back south, signalling the coming of autumn. Waders such as spotted redshanks, green sandpipers and ruffs and now being joined by wood sandpipers (I saw my first for 4 years last night) and common sandpipers. Numbers of moulting teals are increasing by the day. Little gulls and terns are passing through. Some will linger, others move straight on, so it's difficult to predict exactly which species will seen, but a walk to South Hide might produce arctic, roseate, little, black or Sandwich terns among the common terns. Earlier in the week they were being hassled by an arctic skua which will be heading south from it's arctic or Shetland breeding grounds to spend the winter of southern Africa.
Common sandpiper (above) and arctic skua by Jon Evans
Yesterday, we had a report of honey-buzzard flying north over Leiston. What was probably the same bird was seen over Whin Hill and South Belt late morning, but no staff or volunteers saw it well enough to confirm the identification. Honey-buzzards are rare breeding birds of prey, with no local pairs, so this was probably a failed breeder wandering around the coast before heading back to Africa.
Other birds have left already. I was fascinated to read the story about Kasper and friends this week. They are five cuckoos ringed by the British Trust for Ornithology in East Anglia this spring and fitted with tiny satellite transmitters. The latest readings from these transmitters show that two of the cuckoos are already in the middle of the Sahara, two are in central Europe and the the fifth hasn't left the UK. The BTO hope to learn more about the hazards affecting cuckoos on migration and in Africa to give us greater understanding of the causes of their recent catastrophic declines.
Returning to the subject of butterflies, please try to find 15 minutes during the next two weeks to take part in Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count. When the weather improves I'll be doing this at home and at work - could be a very big list at Minsmere if I stand by the buddleias, while red admiral and large white are most likely at home. We're also putting the final touches on another new seasonal trail. Our butterfly trail will take you along previously closed woodland rides where you have a good chance to spot purple hairstreak, white admiral and more. You may also spot a hummingbird hawkmoth, as one was outside the visitor centre yesterday.
Red admiral (above) and hummingbird hawkmoth by Ian Barthorpe