How often to do you get to see something new, that you’ve never laid eyes on before? During migration, in spring and autumn, rare or unusual birds are occasionally blown off course and can turn up in places you just wouldn’t expect. One such visitor has recently appeared at our Lochwinnoch nature reserve near Glasgow – a lesser scaup.
The lesser scaup is a black, white and grey duck that is native to North America. Only a few individuals are ever recorded in the UK each year. This particular duck could be identified because it had been tagged, so we know that it was in Portugal in December 2013, then in Wales during October of the following year. In May 2015 he re-appeared in West Yorkshire, so it seems he is making his way further north with every passing year!
Lochwinnoch has proven to be a great place to spot unusual bird visitors, particularly ducks. Over winter a smew turned up at the reserve and stayed there for a few weeks. Joe Timmins managed to snap a photo of that one and shared it on our RSPB Scotland Facebook page.
We’ve also had sightings of a green-winged teal, which is another rare visitor from North America. That one was first seen by John Sweeney, a highly respected Scottish birder, who was also the first to see and identify the lesser scaup. The sightings were later confirmed by Angus Murray, who runs the Rare Birds telephone service in Scotland.
Spring and autumn are great times of year to get out and enjoy wildlife anyway, but maybe the possibility of seeing something rare or unusual can give us just that extra little bit of motivation! Check out more of our nature reserves in Scotland here.
It's common in spring and summer to find young birds sitting on the ground or hopping about without any sign of their parents. But what do you do if you come across one?
You might have experienced it yourself. Coming home after walking the dog, you find a confused-looking baby house sparrow in the driveway. Or whilst playing football in the park, you come across a seemingly abandoned freshly-fledged wood pigeon, whilst fetching the ball from under a bush. Sound familiar?
Well, actually, situations like these are perfectly normal, so there's no need to be worried. These fledglings are doing exactly what nature intended, and left the nest deliberately a short while before they are able to fly. The young of most familiar garden birds fledge once they are fully feathered, but before they are able to fly. These fledglings spend a day or two, sometimes longer, on the ground while their flight feathers complete their growth.
However tempting, interfering with a young bird like this will most likely do more harm than good, even if there are predators like cats and foxes around. Fledglings are extremely unlikely to be abandoned by their parents. Just because you cannot see the adult birds does not mean that they are not there. The parents are probably just away collecting food - or are hidden from view nearby keeping a watchful eye.
Fledglings should be left where they are, in the care of their own parents. Removing a fledgling from the wild has to be a very last resort, and then only if it is injured or has definitely been abandoned or orphaned, as removal reduces its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction.
If the bird is on a busy path or road, or other potentially dangerous, exposed location, it makes sense to pick it up and move it a short distance to a safer place. Make sure you leave it within hearing distance of where it was found. Birds have a poor sense of smell so handling a young bird does not cause its parents to abandon it.
Can you put it back in its nest?
If a healthy chick cannot be returned to its nest, it will be dependent on humans for survival, and should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible.
As RSPB Scotland is a conservation organisation we do not run a bird rescue service. However, if you do find an injured bird or a nestling that cannot be returned to its nest, the best you can do is to contact the Scottish SPCA by visiting www.scottishspca.org or dialling 03000-999-999. The SSPCA are experts in animal welfare and will be able to give you advice.