March, 2013

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Easter eggs are on their way

    As sure as eggs is eggs, the bird breeding season is getting underway. Some start early - tawny owls, grey herons and crossbills are all species which don't hang around for warmer weather and might have chicks already! There's lots of singing going on and soon our spring migrants will be arriving from southern Europe and Africa, so it's all go.

    Last year's breeding season was a washout for many species, with cold, wet weather making it difficult for parents to find enough food and keep their young warm.

    We can't do much about the rain, but there are lots of things you can do to give breeding birds a helping hand at home in your garden, on your balcony, or in your windowbox.

    Plant a wildlife-friendly garden

    By choosing wildlife-friendly plants for your patch, you can make a big difference in lots of ways. Choose nectar-rich, native plants and flowers to attract butterflies, moths, bees and other insects, which are great to watch and will help provide food for wildlife higher up the food chain. Lots of birds need caterpillars and grubs to feed their chicks, even if they eat seeds the rest of the time. Shrubs and trees can make places to nest and shelter, as well as different sources of food. 

    Put up nestboxes

    Putting up a nestbox is one of the quickest and easiest things to do. We have info to help you make your own, or you can buy from our online shop. Instead of going for a standard nestbox with a small hole, why not choose a different one with a bigger hole to allow starlings to get in and out? Or an open-fronted design for robins and wagtails? Alternatively, you could buy or make a 'bug hotel' - a home for insects like harmless leafcutter bees which are fascinating to watch.

    In the attic

    If you're planning to do any work on your roof, bear birds in mind. Older buildings in particular can give birds like swifts and starlings valuable places to nest. If you're going to close up holes before they start to nest (if they've already started, your maintenance will have to wait til they've finished!), put up a nestbox to compensate.

    Put out nesting material

    Gathering building material for a nest is hard work. When you brush your dog or cat, you could put out the loose hair in the garden for birds to use. Moss is popular too, so if you're raking it up, how about leaving some for birds to use?

    Put out food

    Though there are some foods which aren't suitable for spring and summer, there are plenty of others to choose from. If you feel like really spoiling your local birds rotten, you could treat them to some tasty mealworms...

    Let us know what you've seen in your garden. Who's building a nest, and who's collecting food for chicks already?

  • Monday's magic moment: mad as a March hare...

    You'd have to have been as a mad as March hare to be out in the cold over the weekend!

    However, it was actually a great weekend to spot these long-legged cousins of rabbits. Glancing out of the car window, I saw several braving the open fields of snowy Cambridgeshire yesterday.

    With their brown fur, they stood out easily against the backdrop of the pristine white snow. I can definitely see why mountain hares go white in winter! The crops are yet to grow high, so they were doubly conspicuous.

    There weren't any handbags or punch-ups that I saw - perhaps it was too cold and the females were saving their energy. Either way, here's an image of some quintessential mad March hares to liven up your Monday. Albeit In the snow.

    Brown hares boxing in snow (Image by Richard Revels - www.rspb-images.com)

    This image is by Richard Revels and is one of thousands on RSPB images. You'd be as a mad as these hares not to check it out!

  • Master architects

    Even though it's been a bit hit-and-miss lately as to whether spring really is on the way, one thing you can definitely be sure of is that birds will be in full nest-building mode in only a matter of weeks.

    And while most birds hide their beautiful creations under leaves, in nestboxes or tucked out of sight in the safety of a hollow tree trunk, there's one bird that proudly displays its home for all to see.

    Sociable weavers build large community nests that can be home to 100s of birds. In fact, they build the largest nest of any bird. And it just so happens that their beautiful constructions have been lovingly captured by photographer Dillon Marsh.

    Here's one of his images:

    Sociable Weaver nest on telegraph pole, southern Kalahari

    Each nest is unique and I highly recommend you check out the full set of photos over on Dillon's website

    While over here you can find out more about his adventure to document these over-sized avian homes.

    We want to be together!

    As you've probably guessed from the photo, sociable weavers like to build their nests on tall objects. Every bird adds twigs and grass to the ever-growing home, and this great little article over on Scientific American delves deeper into the benefits of communal living.

    Or, just press play and let the great David Attenborough tell you a little more about them!

    To experience these master architects close up, you'll need to travel to Africa.

    But if that's a little out of your travel (and climate) budget, we've got our own builders of intricate nests - though on a much smaller scale - right here in the UK.

    Long-tailed tits make beautiful nests. Shaped like a bottle, they come complete with a roof, a deep (and cosy!) lining of feathers, and all interwoven with cobwebs to allow it to expand to accommodate a growing family - here's a half-built one!

    I'd love for long-tailed tits to nest in my garden this year, but to be honest I'm happy when any creature takes up the offer to build their home and share their space with me. How about you?