This last week has been an interesting one. With footage and images of the storms that have ravaged parts of the country all over the news, it is all too easy to think about how this has been affecting some of our wildlife. With particular attention paid to some of the coastal areas worst affected by the weather, it would have been nice to do a piece on how this weather has affected the wildlife of these areas. Living in the landlocked county of Staffordshire however, means a quick trip to the seaside isn’t really on the cards for me, so I’ve opted to keep it local. The river near where I live has swelled by approximately 4 feet due to the heavy rainfall, and has got me thinking about how it can affect the wildlife that lives both in and around it. It only takes a short walk along this stretch of river to see the potential impacts it can have upon the local wildlife.
My first thoughts were with the kingfishers that I’ve seen on several occasions along this stretch of river, and how the higher water levels may impact upon their feeding habits. After some thought, a little research led me to an interesting paper entitled "The role of floods in the lives of fish-eating birds: predator loss or benefit?" (Čech & Čech, 2013), which described how kingfishers will adapt their behaviour to maintain their food intake. Typically kingfishers pick off fish from the surface of the river, but during times of flood (which also results in more turbid conditions), kingfishers have been observed to dive into rivers and swim down to feed on prey that lives on the river bed. This being said I hadn’t seen or heard the kingfishers since the heavy rainfall had begun, but other reports stating that kingfishers are likely to hunt in nearby locations that are more suitable (such as canals, lakes, or even garden ponds!) gave me hope.
These two kingfishers were photographed a while ago, roughly around October/November time, and I saw behaviour relating to excavating a nest site. The floods have meant the nest will have been submerged for almost two weeks now, so I fear they will have moved elsewhere along the river to find potential nest sites.
The footpath and river bank itself is about 4 or 5 feet higher than the water usually, so this helps to give an idea as to how high the river has reached. Other concerns are for rodents that live along that length of bank, particularly any voles that may live here. I’ve seen many small holes suitable for voles at various intervals along the bank and can only hope that they haven’t been too badly affected by the flooding.
It’s not all bad though! The surrounding field areas that were affected by the floods turned into a bit of a haven for birds such as black-headed gulls, crows, and magpies. Although these aren’t really birds that pull at our heart strings, we can only look at this as an upside. They are, in my opinion, just as charismatic and interesting as any kingfisher or water vole. That’s all for this week, I can only hope that the weather returns to a more normal state over the coming weeks, that I see the kingfishers sometime soon, and that I finally see this season’s first snowfall in my home town!. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!
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During my time over the last couple of months answering the emails sent in by all of you who read Natures Home magazine, it came to my attention that there is a great deal of you who find many of your garden birds flying into your windows. Talking to some of you about it, and searching the web for more information, got me a little more interested in it myself, and so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss it a little here.
There are a number of reasons why birds may end up colliding with windows. In more territorial species, or at certain times of the year such as the breeding season, it may in fact be their own reflection that causes them to collide with windows as they attempt to fight what they think is a rival in their territory. They may simply think there is a way through, with the reflection of the sky or trees making the window appear invisible to them. Finally, and I have witnessed this take place myself, it is possible for birds to get scared into windows by predators during a chase! As birds fighting their reflections won’t tend to result in fatal collisions with windows, it leaves the other two options as the more likely causes of such incidents.
This is the moment that a female sparrowhawk claimed her kill after causing the wood pigeon to collide with a window during the chase. All I heard was a loud dull thud, and saw the body of the helpless bird laying below. Once I saw the sparrowhawk land I was overcome with excitement, and rushed into the photography department to get my camera and telephoto lens. I knew that the sparrowhawk would return if scared off as it knew an easy meal was present, so I lay down low, just out of plain sight of the bird and waited. These images are some of my favourites of my career to date, just because I find they capture such a wonderfully intimate behaviour of the bird.
Professor Daniel Klem, based in the USA reported that there are estimated to be at least 100 million bird window strikes each year in the US, and by scaling this number down for the UK, an estimated 30 million of our birds can be expected to die from colliding with our windows each year. Bird-window collisions are more likely to occur when there are higher numbers of birds within the vicinity, so it is during migration periods that the frequencies of collisions increase. Further to this, as people often offer bird food in their gardens, it attracts a greater number of bird visitors which in turn increases the potential for a bird-window collision. But we don’t want to stop providing food for our garden birds now do we, with bird watching being an incredibly popular activity throughout the country, and many of us enjoying seeing the birds that come to our gardens!
What the RSPB and other such organisations encourage is the use of stickers. These help to illustrate that a window is not in fact a gap for birds to fly through. They can also act as a deterrent when stickers in the shape of bird of prey are used as they are intended to scare off birds from flying into the window. What Professor Klem has suggested could potentially be the most effective preventative measure for bird-window collisions, is the use of U.V markings on windows. Birds, unlike humans, can see U.V light which would show them where windows are and therefore where not to fly. As you can hopefully appreciate it is a difficult area to research as we can never know for sure how windows appear to birds, and using windows with U.V markings could result in overwhelming the birds vision, especially in big cities with windows at practically every turn!
It is most certainly an interesting topic, and one that has much more to it than you would first expect!