We've had a rush of ID queries in over the last few days, it's that time of year again!!! With lots of baby birds finding their independence and turning up at garden feeders. The juvenile great-spotted woodpeckers are doing a fine job of causing much confusion by themselves. With their bright red crowns, many people who have not seen them before can be forgiven for mistaking them for middle spotted woodpeckers (which share the red crown but do not occur in the UK) and lesser spotted woodpeckers (which also share the red crown but are significantly smaller and much scarcer than great spot's). For anyone not sure which they have, you can quickly check on the links to our website for the great and the lesser.
Starlings are another species that can baffle people at this time of year. The juveniles can be mistaken for another species if they are seen away from the parents as their drab brown plumage is a far cry from the glossy irredescence of the adults. The different plumages are illustrated on our website here.
If you have seen anything you can't identify or want confirming, then please post a picture or a description on the Identify this! community forum.
Much of our time over the last week has been spent advising people who have come across young birds that have got into trouble, here are a few of the regular problems being encountered!
The reflection of the sky or garden in windows can fool many birds into thinking they can fly straight through, often with disastrous consequences. At this time of year when there are many juveniles around making their first flights in the big wide world, window strikes seem to be a regular occurence. The young birds just don't have the knowledge yet and often pay the price. If this has happened to you or you have large windows that could pose a risk, it would be fantastic if you could fit some transfers on the outside surface of the window to alert birds to the solid surface, hopefully preventing further collisions in the future. Those with a bit of a creative streak may fancy making their own window stickers from sticky back plastic however you can by window transfers from our online shop here. Remember, for this to be effective the stickers must go on the outside!
Cats and birds
We have been speaking with a number of concerned cat owners recently who are torn between giving their much loved pets fresh air and trying to prevent them from harming wildlife, especially young birds. At this time of year, many fledglings are just leaving the nest and spending most of their time on or near to the ground as they learn to forage, finish growing their feathers and develop the strength in their wings to fly. Fledglings are very vulnerable to cat predation, especially common garden birds like robins, wrens, dunnocks, house sparrows, blackbirds and song thrushes to name but a few. Our advice to any cat owners at this time of year when they know young birds could be about is to keep your cat in as much as possible and if it is outside, keep it under supervision. It is vital to keep the cat in around the hours either side of dawn and dusk as this is when cats can do most of the damage. For more information about what you can do as a cat owner or if you want to find ways to prevent cats getting into your garden have a look here.
To cut or not to cut?
Many hedges are looking lush and green as it is now mid growing season. This can tempt many people to get the strimmers out with a view to getting the hedges 'neat and tidy'. However, please spare a thought for the hedge nesting birds that are still trying to raise their families in the hedges, many people who have been a bit keen in recent weeks have found this out after the damage has been done, which can be upsetting for the person as well as the birds. Blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, wrens, dunnocks and finches are all capable of breeding two or three times a year and June, July and August are often good months for them to attempt to raise a final brood as the thick and dense foliage gives them lots of cover and also lots of insect food. Please keep the power tools away for at least a few more months and if you have to trim straggly bits, do so with secateurs after making sure no birds are nesting nearby. We have some tips on wildlife friendly management of garden hedges here and farm hedges here.
If you do have breeding birds in your garden, please record these via the Birdtrack website here.
What do crows, buzzards and gulls have in common at this time of year?
These species are all carefully watching over their youngsters during June. Buzzard and crow chicks are approaching fledging if they have not already made the big jump into the big wide world, where as gull chicks are at a variety of stages of development, causing mischief from a few days old, often wandering away from the nest and tumbling down to the ground from elevated nest positions. These birds all share a strong protective instinct for their young, they have invested lots of time and effort into getting them this far and don't want to lose them now.
This often results in a string of reports of attacks on people who unwittingly stray too close to either the nest or the young birds. Obviously this can be a distressing and painful experience for anyone unlucky enough to encounter such an incident. However there are a couple of simple steps you can take to minimise the risks of getting buzzed by an angry parent bird.
The first step is simple, if you know these birds are nesting and you can keep away from the nest area and any youngsters that have emerged, do so. If they are in an area where you cannot avoid, take a couple of precautions, wear a hat and take an umbrella with you. The simplest solutions are often the best and hats and umbrellas will prevent any injuries from protective parent birds that decide to take a swoop at you. Putting up a makeshift warning sign is an option if you wish to alert other pedestrians to the danger but this aggressive behaviour will be short lived, as soon as the young are able to fly the parents will calm down.
Why so scruffy?
We are getting quite a few queries from worried observers who are noticing birds looking a bit worse for wear. If you have a look at any adult birds visiting gardens at the moment, you may notice that they are looking a bit drab and some may even have damaged or lost feathers. The breeding season is a tough time for wild birds and all the feeding, fighting and foraging takes a toll on the feathers of the adult birds.
This summer is flying by and it won't be long now until the birds breeding activities are winding up. When they have completed their breeding activities they will then moult into shiny new feathers which will keep them well protected during the winter. So please don't worry too much if you see bald or scruffy birds, they will be looking much better in a couple of months time!
Bees and boxes
We have had a number of enquiries this year about bumblebees moving into nesting boxes. It's great to know that a simple action like putting up a nest box can have significant benefits to declining species like bumblebees, as well as birds! The life cycle of bees is an interesting one in its own right so it's worth watching through the summer months to see what develops.
Towards the end of summer and into the autumn the colony will gradually come to an end with the queens the only survivors. They will head off to hibernate somewhere else so emptying the box in October or November ready for next spring may set things up for bees or birds next year. If you are worried about bees taking over and not allowing birds to nest, you could also add a few more boxes around the garden to give them a few alternatives.
Like babies that take a while before they take their first few steps, young fledglings often cannot fly on leaving the nest, much to the dismay of many of our callers this week. Popping fledgling blue tits back into the nest box, will only result in these young jumping back out again - these little bundles of joy (and feathers) WANT to leave home! Given a few days these young Starlings, House sparrows and Blue tits will be up, up and away! Removal of a fledgling from the wild reduces its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction. Fledglings should be left where they are, in the care of their parents.
If the bird is on a busy path or road, or other potentially dangerous, exposed location, it makes sense to pick it up and move it a short distance to a safer place. Birds have a poor sense of smell so handling a young bird does not cause its parents to abandon it but make sure you leave it within hearing distance of where it was found.
Sparrowhawks, Magpies, Crows and other omnivorous birds get a bad press at this time of the year. Nests may be predated and young birds fledge without being able to fly away. Try to remember that while it cannot be easy viewing if it happens in your gardens it is part of a whole greater picture and even the Blue-tit is a predator in the eyes of a caterpillar.
MAKE YOUR NATURE COUNT!
MYNC starts on June 4 (This Saturday). It is a one-hour survey of your garden or local park on any day from 4-12 June. We'd like to know about the birds that share your green spaces. There should be plenty for you to see and enjoy as birds will be busy feeding hungry chicks or guarding nests. We would also love to know what other creatures you have seen in your area like badgers, bats, snakes or frogs? So head over HERE if you still haven’t registered.