Let it snow...
The wildlife team has been really busy recently with lots of queries coming in related to the wintry weather, many expressing concern that birds are struggling to cope in the harsh weather. It is true that these times are hard for birds but many run the risk of being killed by misplaced kindness. Putting olive oil into bird baths is a definate no, it won't stop it freezing and can really harm their feathers. The best way to stop a bird bath from freezing is to put a lightweight ball in to keep the water moving, empty it in the evening and fill it up again the next morning. Feeding surplus fat from roasting tins is also bad as it contains salt, smears easily and can be a breeding ground for bacteria, use lard and beef suet as a base for making homemade bird cakes.
The cold weather has made gardens very busy with some unusual visitors making appearances. Snipe, redwing, fieldfare and black redstart are among the species reported to us in the last week or so. Lots of people asking about waxwings, a poor year for seeing them in the UK so far and not as many reports of siskin, brambling or redpoll as we have had in previous years.
Again cold weather related, lots of queries about alternative food sources as many people are stuck in their homes wandering what they can feed the birds from the backs of their cupboards. Some of the more exotic foods being offered across the UK include papaya seeds, cous cous, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, muesli and ant pupae. Someone also suggested chocolate but this is not really a good idea! We suggest food stuffs such as cooked rice, porridge oats, grated cheese, soft fruits and cake crumbs.
These awesome raptors are active in gardens at the moment and this always generates a number of queries. To see them at close quarters in the garden environment is an enormous privilege. However watching predation in the garden can be distressing, its never nice to see one animal kill another, however you have to respect this top predators cunning and agility. We have also had plenty of reports of them getting trapped inside warehouses, probably as a result of chasing prey. One unlucky family arrived home to find their cat had brought a live and kicking sparrowhawk into their kitchen.
Lots of goings on in the world of wildlife so far this month. We are still getting lots of reports of 'posessed' birds attacking their reflections in windows and mirrors. The list for species showing this behaviour is growing ever longer with grey wagtails, blackbirds, crows and long-tailed tits all getting in on the act. The cure is the same for all, get a roll of clingfilm, cover the outer surface of glass and tape it to the edges, then sit back and admire your handy work safe in the knowledge that the bird is doing something far more productive with its time.
My colleagues and i have been speaking to quite a few people who are looking for new things to try in terms of feeding garden birds. You can find more about what to feed here but a couple of simple ideas include porridge oats straight from the packet and cake crumbs from any going spare that you may have at this time of year. That extra piece from the christmas party that you just can't manage might be a banquet for your garden birds!
Its the time of year when swans are causing concern in many parts, the parents drive off this years young now that they are able to fend for themselves. Some of the young birds come to grief on roads or by hitting power lines, which the RSPCA should be able to assist with. Many of the young swans disperse into new areas away from existing pairs. If you see a swan on its own in a field or on a stream that may still have a few brown feathers left, don't worry straight away it could just be a youngster making it on its own.
This time of year is a great time to get out in the garden to do some planting, if you need some tips on what shrubs etc to go for have a look here for more information. As many of the trees and shrubs are still laden with berries and fruit, please leave pruning until late winter so that birds have a chance to take advantage of this important food source. By doing this councils, farmers and other groups like Network Rail who are responsible for managing hedges and their respective green spaces, can make a real positive difference for birds like the song thrush and bullfinch. This is also important in gardens as well as in the wider countryside.
Keep an eye out for waxwings in the next few weeks, we have had one or two mentions this week about them turning up in small numbers in East Anglia and Worcestershire. This could be the start of a bigger movement or just a few on the move, either way, they are great birds well worth watching out for. At the other end of the scale from migrant visitors, we had a report of a mallard duck family with 16 ducklings. Any more reports of unseasonal nesting, we'd love to hear from you.