Hope you all had a great Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
Over the festive break I’ve been watching the birds in my garden. There was nothing out of the ordinary; apart from a Greenfinch spotted two days running, which is a rare sight these days. There was also a mixture of Tits, Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks and a charm of Chaffinches on a daily basis. A Fieldfare was another unusual visitor.
I also saw a female Blackcap, alone on the fat ball feeder. These rather plain looking warblers can often be seen in the winter months, as birds from Northern Europe migrate to the UK to over winter in the milder conditions, rather than migrating south to the Mediterranean. While our native birds head south for winter, these winter migrants can often be seen on feeders in gardens. They are known for not sharing the feeders and will chase other birds away while they are trying to feed. They will even defend feeders if they think the regular food is worth fighting for. As their name would suggest, the male has a black cap and the female has a chestnut-brown cap, but otherwise they look the same. They are about the size of a Chaffinch, but have a slender, dark beak. Juveniles have a chestnut-brown cap, which can make them hard to distinguish from the females. They can sometimes become regular visitors, especially in colder weather, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your feeders.
So far, the winter has been a bit strange weather wise, from snow and haw frosts to mild sunny days, but we are now going through another unsettled period with winter storms crossing the country with a vengeance! Whatever the weather, enjoy the wildlife around you.
Male Blackcap - Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)
You may or may not be aware that our Big Garden Bird Watch is taking place at the end of January on the 24th and 25th, and you can register on our web site now to take part. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to register before the event, you can still do your count and then summit your results on our web site afterwards (see link below). Keep your feeders topped up as natural food will be diminishing by now. Also try to keep your birdbaths topped up, or defrosted depending on the weather, and take a look at our on line shop for food, feeders and birdbaths to encourage the bird life into your garden.
A rescue operation greeted the wildlife team at 9 am this morning. Lorna from our trading team was alarmed to hear shrill whistled calls coming from the grille in the front of her car as she arrived at work. The bird in question was a beautiful kingfisher that had gone gotten himself stuck near the radiator.
The poor chap would not budge as he was gripping his perch inside the grille very tightly. But after a few attempts we were able to free the bird. Although the RSPB is not welfare organisation we endeavor to help all wildlife in need on our doorstep. Well Done Claire and Chris!
The Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a beautifully striking bird. Poet Frederick William Faber descries seeing it in flight as “Swift as a meteor’s shining flame” and the ancient Greeks gruesomely believed that the birds’ body dried and hung up would keep away Zeus’ lightning.
The bird is usually found among waterways and will fish from an overhanging perch, but when no perch is available the kingfisher will make a series of short hovering flights over the water. Come May-July Kingfishers will nest in deep tubular tunnels lined with fish bones in a bank over water where they lay 5-7 eggs and usually have 2 broods. They are widespread, especially in central and southern England, becoming less common further north but following some declines last century, they are currently increasing in their range in Scotland.
Images: Naomi Rose and John Bridges
We should all be busy filling our feeders regularly now, but this year has been unusual and particularly mild for a long time, resulting in plenty of natural food for birds and other animals to feed on. Their instinct is to use this natural food source over the supplementary food we put out for them. Some of you may have found that your feeders are already being regularly used and others are apparently being shunned or used infrequently by the odd passing bird, there is no right or wrong, it just depends on what the birds need in your area. If you are finding that the birds are not using your feeders much and the food is going stale, discard the old food and give your feeders a good clean, but when you top them up only half fill them (this will save you money and the food won’t go to waste). This way there is always some food for the odd bird that uses your feeder. When the weather changes there will be food for when larger numbers of birds come into your garden. You’ll soon be able to see when the food is being eaten, and then you can go back to filling up your feeders again. Once the natural food starts to run out you should start to see more birds coming onto your feeders.
During cold weather, birds can lose up to 40% of their weight overnight, just trying to keep warm. A bird’s body clock works on daylight hours, so in the winter months we are given great opportunities to view the birds feeding at first light, which can become a bit of a feeding frenzy. If you watch your garden birds regularly you’ll notice that they’ll come down to feed again in the late afternoon, before they go and find somewhere to roost overnight. Keep your nestboxes up all year round, as they can give valuable roosting sites for smaller birds and allow them to get out of the worst of the weather, and it may encourage them to nest in the box in the spring.
Robin tucking into some Peck n Mix bird food - Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)
What to feed?
Food that’s high in energy is fantastic for the birds in the winter months; peanuts, any of the fat or suet based foods (you can put these in hanging feeders but also on the ground), seed mixes that contain sunflower seeds or hearts, mealworms and fruit will all go down well. If you can, try to feed at the same time every day, and keep your feeders topped up when you have lots of birds coming onto them.
You can make up your own fat ball and cake mix using lard and suet (you can use vegetarian suet for this mix too). Have the lard and suet at room temperature in a mixing bowl, add in things like porridge oats (uncooked), mild grated cheese, peanuts, sultanas, raisins and bird seed. Mix it all together and create fat balls or press the mixture into old yogurt pots (so you can hang them up, you can attach string to the pot before you add the mixture), or use shallow dishes to create bird cake. Put them in the fridge to set, and when they are solid place them outside. Remember not to feed turkey fat to feed your birds as it’s too soft and can get into their feathers, which can cause them problems.
If you don’t want to do the ‘hands on’ suet cake mix, you can buy a variety of suet based food and feeders for your garden birds from our web site or shops on our reserves. Don’t forget your nestboxes, and fresh water for all the wildlife in your garden.
Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!