Amazingly over the past few weeks, we’ve been getting calls regarding some birds busy building nests, and even reports of nests with chicks in! It seems that to some birds, spring has sprung!
The mild weather, along with food availability has lulled some birds into thinking it’s a good time to raise a brood. Only today, I took a call from a supporter who was watching a Robin feed its chicks with the meal worms he had put out. With signs of activity, it’s a good time to think about putting nest boxes into place, before the nesting season starts with a vengeance, if you haven’t done so already. Nest boxes can be useful to birds throughout the year so can be put up at any time. Over the winter months, nest boxes can be used by birds to roost in and to get out of the worst of the weather.
Birds adapt various strategies to stand the best chance of getting some of their offspring to fledge the nest, and hopefully get to adulthood. Birds will nest at different times of year, often to coincide with warmer temperatures and available food to feed their young, and can produce single or multiple broods. Blackbirds and Robins are some of the first to nest and will have multiple broods throughout the spring and summer. Robins make good use of open fronted boxes, placed in foliage (Ivy, Clematis, Honeysuckle, etc), less than 2m from the ground. Blue Tits normally nest around the end of April, but only have one brood each year. Most boxes you buy have a 32mm entrance hole (to encourage a greater variety of species to use the box), but if you want to make your box specifically for smaller species such as Blue and Coal Tits, you need to reduce the size of hole to 25mm, by using a nest box plate over the hole. Nest boxes need to be sited ideally in a north-easterly direction to avoid most of the sun, which may lead to the box overheating. Blue Tits like a clear run into the box, whereas Robins like to be hidden away, but the sooner you put the boxes, the greater the chance that the birds will find the box and use it.
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
If you are lucky enough to have birds already nesting in your garden, you might like to think about putting live mealworms out for the birds to feed to their young with. If you don’t like the idea of live feeding, you can always soak your dried mealworms over night, before you put them out. Chicks only get the moisture they need from their food. Therefore, species such as Blue Tits may be struggling to find the insect food they normally feed to their young at this time of year. You can buy dried or live mealworms from us at our shops or on line (see link below).
While filling up my bird feeders, I glanced up and saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in the roof of the shed. As I looked around, I found about fifteen more, wings neatly folded, just hanging around, waiting for spring to arrive. The old brick shed has a door that fits where it touches, but that’s exactly what these butterflies need, tucked up between the roof beams, out of the wind, but nice cool temperatures that don’t vary too much. The gaps around the door will allow them safe passage into a bright, spring morning where they will warm up and continue their journey, later in the year.
Image by Deb Depledge
Butterflies technically don’t hibernate, as insects they go into a dormant state when they overwinter. Many butterflies go into this dormant period as an egg, pupa or caterpillar, but some survive the winter months as adults. Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Brimstone all go through the winter, waiting for the spring when they can breed. You can sometimes see Red Admirals on warm, sunny winter days as they don’t tend go into full dormancy, as the others do.
I did find another Small Tortoiseshell alive and well on the living room window sill, basking in the sunshine, which was keeping it from staying in this dormant state, which it should have been doing. Butterflies rely mainly on an external heat source to warm up or shivering (flapping their wings when stationary to use their flight muscles to generate heat) and the winter sun can fool them into thinking it’s time to wake up. It was quite dopey, but having previously found its cousins, I carefully used the glass and paper technique to gather it up and place it out in the shed, as it was a relatively warm day, where it should be happily doing nothing now.
Central heating can also cause butterflies to come out of this dormant state early, with the temperature increase. This can cause problems as what to do with the butterfly when you find it in the depths of winter. I was lucky enough to be shown (by the other butterflies) that my shed is an ideal place for to see out the winter months. The sunny day allowed me to move the butterfly when the ambient temperate in the shed was raised so it wouldn’t be a shock for the butterfly. Don’t forget to check on your butterfly as the spring arrives (early February and into March), to see if it’s active and needs to be let out, if your shed door fits better than mine!
If you find a butterfly in your house, which isn’t moving, it’s best left where it is to see out the winter. However, if your butterfly is awake, try to find somewhere safe outside in a shed or garage, where it can safely see out the winter months. If it’s cold outside, it’s not recommended that you put the butterfly outside, as the temperature change may kill it. So, keep it somewhere cool in your house (porch or conservatory) until it wakes in early spring.
So here we are, the last wildlife enquiries blog for 2013, we thought we would use this blog to think back to what has been a dramatic year for wildlife in the UK and to look forward to next year. 2013 has flown by so here is a quick recap on some of the wildlife stories.
The year started with one of the best 'waxwing winters' that we have seen in the UK for some time, numbering in the several thousands (not repeated so far this winter unfortunately!). The cold weather and poor natural food availability piled on the pressure for our wintering birds and the cold snap came back with a vengeance as we entered into spring playing havoc with many early nesting attempts and migratory birds.
What happened next was quite a surprise, we actually had a proper summer! Late spring and the summer months provided ideal conditions for wildlife of all kinds. Flowers were plentiful along the hedgerows, bees, moths and butterflies were able to breed and that made for a productive summer for many of our bird species who are still taking advantage of the bounty created by the good early summer weather with lots of berries and fruit still to find in the trees and shrubs. Acorns also bounced back after an almost total fail last year much to the joy of our resident jays!
A few big things happened in 'RSPB world' - the state of nature report was published in a joint operation across lots of conservation groups, we launched our Giving Nature a Home campaign, the hen harrier failed to breed in England, cranes bred in Scotland...there are so many stories, what conservation story sticks out most in your mind from 2013?
Despite a few storms this autumn the weather has been fairly mild which has meant many gardens being pretty quiet in terms of birdlife, they are still finding plenty of shelter and food in the hedges and woodland edges. And here we are again, on the back of some of the worst storms for decades picking up the pieces, what could happen next year? Well my prediction is that things may get a little colder over the next month or so and gardens will once again bustle with birdlife around the feeders. With a few nights of clear sky lately i've been keeping a look out for shooting stars, there have been a few corkers, I have been using my wishes wisely, I'm hoping for a mild spring which may help the fortunes of our migrant visitors, but the one thing I really do wish for next year is a year of success for hen harriers!
What would be your wish for 2014 regarding wildlife in the UK?
This will also be my last blog so farewell, thanks for following, I hope you have found my wafflings interesting or useful!
Merry Christmas and happy new year!