January, 2010


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
  • Has the cold killed our birds?

    Lack of birds  - has the cold killed our birds?

    Following on from the recent prolonged cold stint of snow and ice many queries have related to concerns that all our birds have died through starvation and exposure. The weather brought with it an overwhelming number of reports of species such as redwing and fieldfare coming into sub-urban and urban gardens desperately in search of a meal as well as other farmland bird species such as buntings, pipits and wagtails.

    Even though winter does indeed kill many birds through starvation, it is important to acknowledge that this is a perfectly normal part of the annual life cycle in wild bird populations. The losses will soon recover by virtue of bird’s high breeding potential.

    The present milder weather will lead to dispersals back out to the wider countryside. So, a sudden lack of birds is not necessarily explained by mass deaths. Many species groups such as tits and finches will be tied up in flocks until establishing breeding territories in the spring. Which means you could have lots or very few visiting your garden. Discuss this

    Remember to record the birds visiting your garden for one hour over the weekend of the 30th and 31st January as part of this years Big Garden Bird Watch 


    Hi Ho it’s of to work we go.. It is still not to late to get nestboxes up in the garden. In fact it’s never to late really! Not only are they beneficial during the breeding season but also provide good shelter during the cold for roosting.

    Check out the full range of RSPB nestboxes here. The website is also packed full of advice for helping birds and nestboxes. If your considering making your own boxes the BTO nestbox guide by Chris de Feu offers detailed instructions and advice for 24 species which are most likely to nest in garden spaces. Also, register to our Homes for Wildlife project for tailored tips on managing your greenspace’s for birds and other wildlife. Discuss this


    Birds nesting in roofs, in January? I can hear strange noises in my roof and have noticed birds entering gaps under the eaves of my property, so are they nesting? This is a common question in recent weeks. Usually if you notice birds entering roof spaces, it will be starlings or house sparrows.

    In the vast majority of circumstances at this time of year, it is very doubtful that they will be nesting although it’s important to double check before considering getting repair works done if required. The breeding season will be well under way by March and active nests are protected to varying degrees under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If unsure, it is important that the relevant government department is consulted for up to date legal advice before any action is taken. 

  • The cold continues into 2010

    Freezing weather and snow food for the birds!
    The prolonged winter weather will continue to pose a significant threat to wild birds as they struggle to find a decent meal. This has led to a huge number of calls from concerned members of the public wanting to know what’s best to feed them.  Ideally, we recommend feeding twice daily If possible, in the morning and early afternoon. Birds require high energy foods during the cold to helps survive the frosty nights. Fruit is high on the menu at the moment, as well as premium seed mixes and pure suet and lard. Avoid using fats left over from cooking meats as they are to soft and form ideal breeding grounds for food poisoning bacteria.

    Discuss here

    How to stop ice
    We suggest placing a ping pong ball, tennis ball or cork in unfrozen water. Movement of these items in the wind keeps the water agitated, making it less likely to freeze. You could also use short lengths of garden cane or twigs in a similar way. They would also provide a great perch for birds. Even if this just keeps a small amount of water ice-free, it still means birds have vital access to something to drink and bathe in. Just use warm water rather than boiling to melt ice. 

    Discuss here

    Redwing and Fieldfare
    A countless numbers reports have come detailing sightings of both redwing and fieldfare. Surprisingly to many they are widespread and often common during the winter. Combined numbers can be around 1.5 million birds. In addition, many birds that winter in southern Europe migrate through Britain – not just those from Scandinavia and Siberia. The migrating birds travel in large flocks, which may contain a thousand birds or more.

    Discuss here

    What’s that in the garden?
    The cold winter weather has also led to a number of more unusual species visiting garden feeders in search of a much-needed meal. Including overwintering blackcap defending their food supplies, snipe, woodcock, stonechat, reed bunting and grey wagtails to name but a few.

    Equally, these species sometimes cause confusion on identification. For example, redwing and fieldfare have been confused with little bunting and ortolan bunting and grey wagtails being confused with the summer visiting yellow wagtail.

    Discuss identifications here