Here in wildlife enquiries we occasionally get sent some rather interesting finds including pictures of unsual garden visitors, feathers and occasionally dead birds. We are more than happy to take a look at feathers and pictures but we are not too keen on the dead birds, they don't travel well in the post and rarely arrive in one piece and make for a pretty unpleasant surprise first thing in the morning!!! So if you come across something that has died and you want to know more about it, get in touch first before popping the unfortunate critter in the post!
I thought i'd share with you all some pictures I took of something that was sent into us recently that might be of interest, have a look below and see if you can guess what species of bird this plumage belongs to?
Here is the wing with some of the feathers removed for illustrative purposes, as Rolf Harris would say, 'can you tell what it is yet?'
I am of course talking about nesting boxes! Putting up nesting boxes in gardens at this time of the year has got to be one of the best ways to help give our feathered friends a great chance of finding a top spot for raising the next generation when the spring arrives. In this blog i'll talk about boxes with small entrance holes.
Your standard small nesting box with a 32 mm entrance hole is potentially a nest site for house sparrows, great tits, blue tits and possibly coal tits in gardens, also pied flycatchers if you are in the right areas with the right habitat. You can limit the variety of species that can use the box by fitting a nesting plate over the hole, blue tits can squeeze into a 25 mm opening, but 32 mm is usually a good size hole that can attract a range of species in a garden. In order for these species to feel safe enough to nest, the box needs to be positioned somewhere open, so they can check the coast is clear, relatively disturbance free and ideally at or above two metres high. House sparrows are a little bit more sensitive than the tits so go higher for them if you can whilst some tits will nest much lower but would be more vulnerable to ground predators as a result.
Some good examples of tit nesting locations are tree trunks, fenceposts, shed, garage and house walls. Always choose somewhere that has open access to and from the hole but some cover nearby to disguise their approach and exit from the nest. In order to prevent the young inside getting cooked during hot weather, try to avoid walls or the side of trunks that face south, north or west are usually fine. House sparrows seem to prefer their boxes being located up under the eaves in loose colonies, two or three on the same wall a few feet apart could be the start of a nice little colony. If you cannot get up to the eaves, have a look on your house to see if any window ledges offer an over hang, as long as they are above two metres there is a chance that sparrows will have a look.
Remember, these boxes don't need a perch under the hole, these birds can cling quite easily to the hole itself. You might see them pay a visit to check it out over winter, they may even use it to roost but for most of us it takes a while for the box to be accepted so prepare to be patient!
Any questions, add them using the comment box below!!!
Summer has finally arrived (for some), all be it late, birds have been struggling to raise their young in the wet, cold weather and now they have chicks it looks like they are disappearing from view. Where have they all gone and when will they return?
During the breeding season, birds will hold their territories and attract their mates by singing and often physically defending their space. Often at this time of year you will hear less bird song as they focus their attention on raising their young and finding food for the numerous mouths they have to feed. Once the young birds have left the nest, the adults will continue to feed their young for a few weeks and teach them what they need to know for their life ahead, before they go their separate ways. Part of this process includes utilising the abundance of natural food that is available to them. Many birds will leave our gardens and find seeds, fruits and berries to incorporate into their diet, from the wider area, including scrub land in our urban areas and the countryside, especially at harvest time when there is discarded, split seed on the ground. Unsurprisingly, many birds are attracted to the natural food in preference to the food we place at our feeding stations. Supplementary feeding only accounts for about 10% of a bird’s diet, and once the autumn months approach and the temperatures drop the birds will return to the feeders.
House Sparrow feeding their young - Steve Austin (rspb-images.com)
Towards the end of the breeding season, birds will naturally moult their feathers. Parent birds have little time to preen and clean their feathers, giving some birds a shabby, unkempt appearance. Birds will moult at different rates; some will lose a few feathers at a time, where others will lose most of their feathers in a short time, giving them a bald look. Mite infestations are often another cause for feather loss, often on the bird’s head, but once they go through their moult they will grow new feathers and have normal plumage again. While they are going through their moult and replacing their flight feathers they can be vulnerable to attack from predators and territorial disputes. This results in birds finding deep cover in our gardens and parks while their new feathers grow. The moulting process can take anything up to eight weeks, but it does vary from bird to bird.
Blackbird taking a bath - Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)
You may find that you still have the odd visitor to your feeders through this lean period, but once the autumn and winter months arrive and the berries have been eaten, the birds will return to our gardens and feeders.
So spring is keeping us waiting and here in the wildlife enquiries team we have been getting some of our usual and not so usual queries.
Lots of window collisions have been reported, it is a sad fact that even masters of ambush can fall foul of colliding with large solid surfaces such as windows and patio doors. At least two were as a result of a heated chase, with birds trying to avoid the snatches of a Sparrowhawk. Although the Sparrowhawk is also a common casualty. There are simple steps one can take to avoid this.
March would not be March without ducks turning up gardens. Preferring to nest away from the busy waters edge, even the most suburban garden provides welcome shelter as well as peace and quiet to bring up the kids. It won’t be long before little bundles of cuteness will be getting into all sorts of japes. One of our favorite enquirers here in the wildlife team was a young man pondering if Duck’s (like Keith Richards apparently) are immortal as he had never seen a dead duck! After being told ducks can become the victims of predators the young man was not convinced as according to him predators are fictional and only appear in the popular film with Arnold Schwarzenegger...
Many reports of Waxwings still coming in strong as they migrate from the UK to their breeding grounds... The Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) which visits the UK during winter is larger, fatter and greyer than the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) which breeds in open wooded areas in North America. The cedar waxwing is known to get drunk after feeding on fermented fruit...I personally would love to see them in The red lion on a Friday night...alas they will remain propping up the bars of Florida and the other states!
Our cheeky punk rockers of the bird world are still being seen as the volumes of emails received this week reflect. It seems that folk are still tantalised a shade of light red by these quirky birds. Many waxwings are now fuelling up for the journey home. We wish them well.
And finally...Still have no idea how this ended up in our department?!
Have a Happy Easter : )
Earlier this week when I was walking around the Lodge reserve a bumblebee flew straight into me, bounced off and carried on across the ridge, my first of the year, I hope it was able to find a few flowers to feed on! It has been noticeably milder this week and this change in temperature seems to have spurred many creatures into life. On looking at some Birdtrack records it appears that some swallows have been seen already in Cornwall and Essex, (possibly migrants or were they over wintering?) have you spotted any migrants yet? I would expect sand martins and wheatears to be popping up very soon so keep a look out!
As for the gardens and woodlands, listen out for woodpeckers drumming, great tits, chaffinches and wrens in full song and keep an eye out for woodland flowers bursting into life. The daffodils here are nearly ready to flower and the bluebell foliage is starting to show through the leaf litter! we'd love to see your pictures of spring in bloom.
Other creatures emerging from a winter slumber include amphibians, the frogs in the pond that I dug a couple of years ago have this week croaked into action, i'm hoping for frogspawn in the next few weeks! How are your ponds doing, any signs of life yet?
I've just returned from Newcastle where we delivered some training to our colleagues in the regional office, great city and people, we even got a chance to do a bit of birding along the Tyne with curlew, teal, redshank, shelduck and a sparrowhawk being the highlights!