August, 2009

Wildlife

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

Wildlife Enquiries

'Good morning, Wildlife Enquiries...' We take hundreds of calls and e-mails every day. Find out what everyone's asking this week
  • Where have all the birds gone?

    If you listen out and look for the birds regularly its clearly noticeable that there appears to be a distinct lack of birds at the moment. Is this the result of the reported declines in many species or is something equally sinister? In short the answer is no, its part of the annual cycle of birds, there is no single explanation but several factors are at play here.

     

    For one, the birds have no reason to sing in the same way as this years breeding season is now coming to a close and territorial drive diminishes as the young have fledged the nest. 

     

    Secondly, once birds have completed their breeding for the year, they will start to moult into fresh new feathers. Completing a moult of all feathers takes several weeks. During this period the birds will look rather scruffy, and while they are moulting their wing feathers, less able to escape predators. Hence, they will try and conceal themselves to avoid predators and territory disputes. These birds are easy to miss even by an expert observer, giving the impression of disappearance.

     

    Thirdly, in late summer a bounty of natural food becomes available as grainfields, berries and fruit ripen. Many birds will abandon their nesting areas and move out to where the best food availability is. This is probably the time of the year when birds are least interested in offerings on bird tables. In areas where farmland is nearby, house sparrows, starlings and many finches move out to grainfields to feast on the abundance of grain before it is harvested, and on the spilt grain after the harvest. Depending on the location, this can create a total and very sudden disappearance of these birds from residential areas. Even in cities, sparrows and finches are attracted to any piece of rough ground that provides a good crop of weed seeds. Tits tend to abandon their territories soon after their young fledge, and spend most of their time in the late summer, first in family groups, later in larger flocks, high up in tree canopies, where they are readily missed by most people. Even blackbirds and song thrushes tend to move to where there is an abundance of fruit or berries. Birds often return to gardens only when autumn frosts appear.

     

     

  • Beeing helpful!

    In response to the declines in numbers of bees within the UK the RSPB has made a press release which suggests a mix of two tablespoons of white granulated sugar and a tablespoon of water, placed in a small container such as an egg cup, among the bees' favourite flowers, should help give them a much needed energy boost!

    It is unclear why bees are struggling, but bad weather may have played a role.

    Bees fly less when it is wet and cold, meaning they have to work doubly hard to collect pollen and nectar when it clears us.

    Wet weather also washes pollen off plants, leaving stores low and forcing bees to fly further afield than usual.  

    We warn against making the mixture any stronger, to stop the bees getting excess amounts of sugar.

    One national newspaper even went so far as to suggest giving bees a boost with Red Bull or Lucozade! We'd definitely not recommend that (and we've asked the paper to tell its readers the same)

    Energy drinks such as these contain highly concentrated levels of sugars as well as many other additives which the bees would obviously never encounter in nature.

    The white sugar mixture mentioned above is at levels which could be found naturally, and so by offering it in this way only we hope to help them.

    Only small containers should also be used to stop birds diving in for a sugary bath, which could affect a bird's feathers.

    Honey should also not be used as an alternative for sugar as most of it is imported and not suitable to native bee species. This could also contain viruses that may affect an entire colony, not just individual bees.

    Val Osborne, head of RSPB wildlife enquiries here at The Lodge, said many people were noticing bees on the ground and wrongly assuming they were dead.

    "We've been getting even more calls about bees than ever this year as most people have read that they are in trouble," she said.

    "Much like us, a sugary drink could boost their energy levels and a simple sugar and water combination will be a welcome treat."

    Bees are a keystone species in sustaining food chains and ensuring biodiversity on our planet. Albert Einstein is even alleged to have said that “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man,"

  • Recent hot topics with the RSPB

    Cranes
    The Crane project has generated a few queries. It involves taking chicks from Germany and eventually releasing them in Somerset. There have been some concerns about resources being diverted to a bird which is already breeding in the UK but it is also a flagship species for wider wetland conservation.

    Other feather abnormalities
    We have had a few unusual looking birds reported this week. A couple of albino starlings. We also have had three photos of "erythristic" birds, a house sparrow, starling and great tit. These are birds with unusual amounts of red pigment  - this is a genetic abnormality and can make identification a little tricky!.

    Bird disease
    Reports of dead birds (mainly greenfinches again) have been increasing as they did in previous years. This is likely to be trichomoniasis. We have had a report from France so it looks to have spread there. Further information about this is on our website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/health/sickbirds/greenfinches.asp

    Dead bumblebees
    Not just birds but bees are also being reported dead. This could be due to the weather, parasites or just the fact bumblebees are only short lived. According to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, as long as there are still some bees alive in your area then all should be fine. However, lots of dead bees and very few live ones could suggest there is a problem there. There is more information about this on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website: www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk