March, 2012

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • This weekend... get eggcited!

    It's not long until Easter and eggs are everywhere. Tasty as chocolate ones may be, I say that the real things are much more interesting. Here are my Top Ten Eggciting Eggsamples.

    Tiny cliff ledges are dangerous places for eggs, but safe from ground predators. One of the reasons that guillemots lay quite long, pointy eggs is that they roll around in a tight circle and are less likely to fall off the edge!

    Eggs come in a huge variety of colours - different, subtle shades of blue, brown, buff, white, and spotted, streaked and speckled... but Cetti's warblers lay bright reddish-brown eggs!

    Once their chicks have hatched, many female birds will eat the empty eggshells. It's a great way of recouping some of the important reserves of calcium that are put into the shells. But if the shells aren't eaten, the parents will usually dispose of them somewhere away from the nest so they don't attract attention.

    The grey partridge lays the largest clutches of eggs in the UK - up to 16!

    Magpies, jays and grey squirrels are much maligned for taking the contents of nests. But did you know that great spotted woodpeckers also eat eggs and chicks? They can easily chisel their way into nestboxes, but you can buy metal plates to fit around the entrance hole.

    Many birds will wait until they've laid a full clutch of eggs before starting to incubate them properly. Others don't wait, and get started as soon as the first one's laid. For example, a barn owl might lay up to six eggs, with a day or so inbetween each one.
    The eggs take 32 days to hatch and the oldest chick might be 12 days older than the youngest. That may mean that if times are hard, the smallest, weakest owlets may make a meal for their older siblings (as seen on Springwatch a few years ago). It sounds grim, but it's one way of making sure that at least some survive.

    To avoid... putting all their eggs in one basket (sorry), some birds will lay some of their eggs in the nests of others. It's called 'egg dumping'.

    Leaving your nest unattended can be a recipe for disaster if a hungry predator spots it, so grebes camouflage their eggs with a bit of waterweed when taking a break from incubation.

    At this time of year, we get questions from people who've found eggs buried in plant pots and flowerbeds. There aren't any birds in the UK which bury their eggs (though the Australian malleefowl does, making a mound of rotting vegetation and sand to incubate the eggs). However, foxes do hide eggs as an easy meal to come back for later.

    The goldcrest is (along with its close cousin, the firecrest) our smallest bird, weighing in at a mighty 5g. It's hard to imagine, but its tiny eggs measure 14 x 10mm and weigh only 0.8 g each - that's less than a paperclip!

    Hope you have a great Easter...

  • Monday's Magic Moment: shake those tail feathers

    Are you feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning? We're basking in glorious sunshine here at RSPB HQ.

    In parts of the UK's mountains and moors, male black grouse will be getting down to the important business of 'lekking'. Basically that's showing off to female grouse (who are greyish-brown) and demonstrating to rival males who's boss.

    It's an amazing spectacle and sound which not many people get the chance to witness - the birds are shy and easily disturbed. But we're running Date with Nature events starting on 1 April at Coed Llandegla in north Wales where you can do just that. It's an early start but you can get a great breakfast afterwards!

    See you there!

  • This weekend...use your ears

    When you next get a second, stick your head out the nearest window (or door!) and listen. If you live near a busy road it might take you a moment to adjust your ears, but listen carefully and you'll hear the beginnings of spring.

    At the moment, it's mainly an incoherent chatter and twitter of birds warming their voices up and trying out new song, but it's a sure sign that spring is just around the corner.

    Whose song is it anyway?

    While the trees are still bare, it's pretty easy to spot which bird is singing what. However, as we head further into the year and trees get greener, soon the only way to tell what birds are around is to listen to them.

    While it can take a bit of practise to recognise some birdsong, there is one bird who makes the whole identification process very easy - the chiffchaff.

    Chiffchaff singing from willow tree.

    You see, this small brown warbler just can't help but sing it's name. Perched in a tree, it merrily goes 'chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff'.

    Although some chiffchaffs live in the UK all year round, now they are being joined by birds from the Mediterranean, so it's a great time to listen out for them.

    Happy weekend all.