Wildlife Enquiries

Wildlife

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

Wildlife Enquiries

'Good morning, Wildlife Enquiries...' We take hundreds of calls and e-mails every day. Find out what everyone's asking this week
  • Ducks on the march!

    The warm, mild weather has triggered the start of the nesting season, and we are already getting calls about ducks nesting in people’s gardens, and what, if anything, they can do. If the duck is already laying eggs, then there isn't anything you can do, as the nest and the eggs are fully protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). Ducks build their nests on the ground, which can be just a scrape in the ground, or in a hollow in a tree, but sometimes they line it with grass and other materials. A duck will lay an egg every day until she is ready to incubate them, and she won’t sit on them until she gets to that point. She will then, in order not to be seen, sit very still on the eggs for about twenty eight days when the ducklings should hatch. She will only leave the nest to find food and water but will return soon after. Many birds will adopt this behaviour as they want the chicks to hatch around the same time. This means that the adults are feeding the young birds at roughly the same age. This also ensures that the chicks or ducklings leave the nest at the same time. After a day or two, once all the ducklings have hatched, the female will want to lead her ducklings to open water. This is fine if you have a large pond and are happy for the ducklings to grow up there until they leave of their own accord. However, we do not advise that you feed them or they will be reluctant to leave and you may end up with fifteen adult ducks in permanent residence! If you need to move the duck and her ducklings to a more appropriate water body, this is what you need to do:

    • Start by feeding the female so you befriend her and you’ll stand a much better chance of catching her later. You can use ordinary bird food, but avoid too much bread as it’s not very nutritional and it won’t be good for your pond.
    • Try to feed her in the same place so she is happy feeding there, this will make her easier to catch when the time comes
    • Prepare two boxes that the duck and ducklings won’t be able to escape from. You can use pet carriers if they are suitable. Try to move the family in the morning to give them the best chance of settling to their new surroundings.
    • Catch the mother first. Ignore any sounds she may make and place her in one box. You can use an old towel or sheet thrown over her, which may stop her from flying off.
    • Catch all the ducklings (a quick head count is a good idea) and place them in the other box. This just ensures that the mother doesn't stand on any of the ducklings in transit.
    • Take both boxes down to a local pond, river, canal or any open water source. Find a quiet spot and release the ducklings first and then the mother in sight of her ducklings. Try to find a spot close to the water’s edge where the ducklings can get in and out of the water easily.
    • If the duck and ducklings are close to water, but have just nested in your garden, you can walk them to water. Again feed the female so she trusts you, and I suggest using bread at this point so it’s easy for her to see and then she should follow you.
    • Most motorists are reasonable and will stop to allow you and the ducks to cross, but some additional help may be a good idea if you are going for this option. Please take care of yourself, and if you have any concerns use the method above for moving the ducks.

    Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)

    Ducks are known for nesting in unusual and unsuitable places, and if you feel that you can’t move your duck family safely, please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 and take the option for injured and distressed animals, who may be able to help.

  • New Wildlife Advisers!

    Hi! We are the new Wildlife Advisers, Dannie and Louise, this week we joined the Wildlife Enquiries Team at HQ as seasonal workers, getting ready for the busy and exciting spring/ summer period. Below is a little bit about our first week on the job!

    Dannie:

    Hello! My first day started off with a tour of our headquarters, the offices, library, and of course tea making facilities (an essential stop on the first day!). During my tour I learnt what activities my new role will entail and the types of queries I may receive, which seem to cover all manner of things wildlife related! I am looking forward to spending my day answering the phone, e-mails and letters on the wide variety of issue that my new team covers. From anything from how to manage land for wildlife, issues with renewable energy, bird diseases and bird identification, it sounds like I will definitely be kept on my toes and I can’t wait to get stuck in!

    The Lodge is a wonderful reserve to work on. I have been taking lunch-time walks through a variety of trails and have seen a number of exciting birds already, including a green woodpecker, mistle thrush and some flirtatious blue tits. Though there is so much to learn, we have a great team around us who will help us find all the information that we need.

    Louise:

    Hey! So, as I’m sure you can imagine people contact us with queries about a vast range of subjects, some controversial and others more light-hearted including bird ID’s or where the best pub is in relation to the Reserve. So the first three days involved getting to grips with, and trying to digest, the substantial amount of information required to answer all of these areas.

    Late on day three saw me receiving my first phone call.....by mistake! Was there anything this lady could do to stop the Ravens fighting her resident Crows? Unfortunately not, she would just have to watch them battle it out. Although nervous, I am not too worried about starting to answer the phone calls as I know the Team here will get me through the difficult or tricky questions. I’m just not looking forward to the first irate caller.....keep calm I guess. My highlight of the week was when I received an email with a photograph of a 3 year old boy dressed as a Kingfisher for World Book Day at his school. Thomas the Tank Engine, Batman or a pirate were suggestions from his mum but no ‘I want to be a kingfisher, like in mummy’s book’!!

    We have had a good first week, learning the ropes of this challenging and ever evolving job, and we look forward to keeping you updates with our progress.

  • Early broods and nest boxes

    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).

    http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/bird-food/worms-bugs.html