Boffin birds on film. Zooming in on a very special academic family in Birmingham.
14 April 2010
Media & Communications Officer ( West Midlands)
A new breed of high-flying student is set to capture the hearts of city dwellers in the nation’s second city with a pair of nesting kestrels taking up residence in one of the UK’s top universities.
The RSPB will be showing up close and personal views of the kestrels as they raise their family at the iconic Aston University in Birmingham city centre this spring and summer.
Aston is known for its teaching quality and high league table rankings but even its star pupils wouldn’t predict that it could be on the map for its credentials as a wildlife haven.
What started off as a missing piece of glass in a technician’s study room at the University has since become the nesting place for several generations of kestrels.
Generations of scholarly kestrels have raised young at the university for the past thirty years, but this summer, for the first time, people can enjoy unrivalled views of them as they raise their family.
As part of the RSPB’s Date With Nature scheme (see note 1), a webcam has been installed in the nest site and staff, students and the public can now watch the birds via a live web feed on the RSPB and Aston University’s websites.
Last year, three chicks successfully hatched and were fitted with monitoring rings at Aston. It’s hoped the latest ‘nestcam’ footage will encourage more people to enjoy seeing the latest birds and their young grow-up in the city.
Kestrels have been declining due to loss of habitat and intensive farming practises and are on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern (see note 2). The RSPB hopes that by watching the birds feed and breed, people will really take them to heart.
The hovering kestrel is a common sight beside roadside verges but it is less well known that they love city life too.
They choose nest sites that are easy to defend against predators, often found in trees and crags and urban buildings can be like an extension of their natural nest sites.
They need access to areas with long grass in order to find food. They feed on small mammals such as voles, shrews and mice, small birds and invertebrates like beetles, grasshoppers and worms.
With more wildlife friendly areas in city centres, run down sites like the edge of industrial estates with overgrown grass rich in small mammals and insects and countryside areas like Staffordshire and Shropshire not far away, it’s not surprising that Birmingham city centre would be an attractive option for a nesting kestrel.
And with a vast motorway network also on the doorstep, there are plenty of grass verges nearby and this is probably how the kestrels were able to find their way into the city centre in the first place.
Carolyn Taylor from the Aston Campus Wildlife Group says: “We are delighted that the kestrels have chosen Aston as their home and it’s a pleasure to welcome them to class!
“Lots of people already know they are here and enjoy sightings of them flying back and forth and hovering over their prey, but by installing the nest cam even more people will get to see how incredible these birds are.”
Kestrels have pointed wings, chestnut coloured plumage and a blue-grey head. They are masters of stationary flight and use the hovering technique extensively for hunting.
In addition to having exceptionally good eyesight, kestrels can also see ultra-violet light. This is useful in locating voles because they leave a trail of trail of urine wherever they go and the urine glows in ultra-violet light.
Louise Pedersen from the RSPB’s Birmingham office says: ”It’s wonderful that kestrels are thriving in Birmingham city centre but they are still declining so we really hope that by making even more people aware of them, their plight and their incredible behaviour, they will take them to heart.
“We can’t wait to join forces with the university to show them to as many people as possible. Two eggs have already been laid and I can guarantee that as soon as they come into view and the chicks hatch people will be desperate to follow their fortunes!”
Nestcam footage from the Birmingham kestrels will be beamed onto a screen at the RSPB’s Date with Nature stand in country parks in Birmingham and the Black Country during the summer and it’s available from the university’s website www.aston.ac.uk (see note 3).
This project is just one of many ‘Dates with Nature’ around the UK, where the RSPB is on hand to show people the wealth of wildlife on their doorsteps.
Other Dates with Nature include different birds of prey like peregrines in city centres like Worcester, Manchester and London to red deer rutting in Suffolk, thousands of starlings roosting on Brighton Pier, choughs nesting in slate caverns in Wales and white-tailed eagles soaring across Scotland.
There are more than 50 Dates With Nature for 2010, giving unrivalled views of natural spectacles.
For more information on the Birmingham kestrel project and webcam stills, visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/sites/birmingham/
The aim of the Date With Nature scheme is to show people wildlife and while many projects focus on birds there are many opportunities to see other types of nature too. Staff and volunteers are always on hand to help show you the birds, and ensure your day is full of fun and spectacle. For a full list of Dates With Nature visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature
The UK's birds can be split in to three categories of conservation importance - red, amber and green. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action. Amber is the next most critical group, followed by green. For more information visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/status_explained.aspx
The nest cam is also live on Aston University’s website http://www1.aston.ac.uk/about/environment/kestrels/webcam/