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Mud, glorious mud

Last modified: 07 May 2011

House martin on telegraph wire

The RSPB is urging people to make damp mud available for birds that desperately need it to make their nests for the breeding season.

After the driest April on record, and more dry weather forecasted, birds like house martins and swallows are struggling to find enough sticky mud for their nests.

The wildlife charity suggests putting wet mud in a shallow container like a dustbin lid, or creating damp mud at the edges of borders and ponds or in bare patches of grass.

As well as using it to start new nests, birds will be able to use the wet mud to mend existing ones.

The RSPB has received worrying reports of house martins checking old nests from last season but not finding any mud to repair them.

House martins use pellets of mud to build a dome shaped nest under the eaves of houses.

They usually rely on gathering mud from the edges of water bodies or from muddy puddles on tracks and in farmyards, but the dry weather means they are few and far between at the moment, so man-made muddy patches will be important.

As well as summer migrants, birds like blackbirds and song thrushes also use mud for their nests.

John Day, RSPB Urban Adviser, says: “The dry spell has made it extremely tricky for lots of birds to build nests and fix their old ones.

Without the right materials to make their nests it could affect their chances of breeding successfully.”

House martins and swallows that have arrived in the UK from places like Africa will start breeding throughout May. They sometimes have two or three broods over the summer, so a strong nest is extremely important.

House martin nests also have a tendency to fall with the young still inside. The forecasted dry spell is likely to see this happening frequently as the mud dries out, reducing the nests grip on the wall.

A substitute nest may encourage the parents to continue to feed them. The RSPB suggests securing to the wall, a strong box or container such as an ice cream tub, deep enough to prevent the young falling out.

Artificial house martin and swallow nests are available to buy. Or, they can be made and are best mounted on a board which can be fixed easily under eaves or in the case of swallows, to beams in out buildings. They don’t guarantee birds will use the nest, but often encourages them to build their own. The artificial nests are best placed in groups, especially near existing nests. It helps to smear the outside of the nest with mud, especially around the hole.

For more information visit

 http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/h/housemartin/encouraging_them_to_nest.aspx

http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/swallow/encouraging.aspx

To buy a house martin or swallow nest visit www.rspbshop.co.uk

The RSPB will be holding its first house martin ‘Date With Nature’ this year, starting Thursday 26th May and running every Thursday through to Sunday from 11am to 5pm up until 4th September. For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature

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