May, 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
  • Summer migrants, peacocks and suicidal geese!?!

    Lack of summer visitors
    Last week we were still receiving queries about the apparent lack of house martins, swallows and swift. Some of these birds might have been delayed by the cold northerly winds that made early May a chilly one. Swallow and House Martin (hirundines) populations fluctuate from year to year and are greatly affected by weather. They require rain for wet mud for nest building and for encouraging the abundance of insect prey, but cold wet weather prevents them from feeding. Large-scale mortality is regularly recorded during and after bad weather, during both breeding and migration. On the other hand, hot and dry weather can result in mortality through dehydration and heat stress. Things have warmed up considerably triggering now so we might start to see more.

    More advice!? - see Attracting house martins

    Nestbox casualties
    The cool weather early in the month seems to be likely cause of many of the reported deaths of blue tits chicks in their nests. In cold weather, insect food can be harder to find so the parents struggle to feed the youngsters. It’s also important to ensure you’re nest boxes aren’t exposed to direct sunlight as the chicks can essentially cook in the box. It’s too late in the year to re-sight boxes but of need be use a parasol to shelter them from extreme temperature variation. more information is available in our advice section such as siting a nest box.

    Wandering peacocks
    The spring and summer triggers the peacocks to think about breeding and they often end up wandering from where they should be. Tracing the owners is usually not possible so they are best left to it. As with any stray domestic animal if they become a real problem local wildlife rescue groups and animal sanctuaries may be able to help.  South Gloucs council produce a good advisory note on problem peacocks.

    Oystercatcher nests
    A few unusual oystercatcher nests. These birds traditionally nest on shingle beaches but some have take to gravel car parks and even roofs switching their feeding to earthworms and insect larvae.

    A few interesting sightings this week. Lots of hoopoe reports. In theory they should be difficult to confuse with anything else. Although we do get a few jay photos from time to time. We were also send a nice photo of an osprey on Loch Awe.

    Do geese commit suicide?!
    A local petting zoo owner suggested to a group of school children visiting that a goose found lying face down in a paddling pool had killed itself because it was distraught at the loss of its chicks. The teacher leading the children phoned us to check if geese do in fact commit suicide. This probably wouldn't be a good evolutionary strategy so we think not.


  • Mayhem-birds are having a hoot!

    Now the swifts are here we almost have a full complement of our summer migrants. However keep an eye out for spotted flycatchers and house martins as we have not heard of many sightings so far this year. Please remember to record your sightings on the Birdtrack website. Its also a great time to look for insects as butterflies, bees and dragonflies are on the wing.

     Now that the temperature is warming up it is a great time to get out and about and enjoy the variety of birdsong that this season is famous for. Have a look on our events pages to see if you have any dawn chorus walks at your local RSPB reserves, these are well worth getting up early for.

    The mixed bag of weather that we have had so far in May has caused some concern for nesting birds, particularly blue tits. We have spoken to a few concerned people who have witnessed nestlings dying off. This may be related to the late frosts to over the last two weeks as well as the shortage of insect food as a result of the colder weather. Hopefully the rumoured improvements in the temperature will help stir things into life once again. To give nesting birds a helping hand, try feeding live mealworms, sunflower hearts and buggy nibbles which you can get from our online shop.

    Many tawny owls have been busy breeding over the last few months and it is the time when 'owlets' start to venture out into the big wide world. If you find a fluffy grey owl on the floor or in a low branch, do not be tempted to pick it up or move it, they are best left alone. Their parents are probably watching over them and these little critters are not as helpless as they look. In fact they have the amazing ability to clamber up trees using their razor sharp claws. If you are very lucky you may see the youngsters 'branching' where the young line up along a branch nearby to their nest, an amazing sight and sure to result in a few 'ah bless' comments!

    Whilst on the subject of young birds, now that the weather is brighter many people may be tempted to get the garden tools out. Please please please take care with routine garden chores as most hedge and tree nesting birds are right in the middle of their breeding season. Ideally we recommend that hedge trimming is not carried out between March and August. So sit back, enjoy the sun and watch the garden spring into life!

    To end this entry, a plea to all cat owners, as there are lots of vulnerable fledglings around at this time, please be extra vigilant as many young birds will fall prey to cats. If you know you have nesting birds nearby, please keep the cats in if possible, if the cats don't take to kindly to this then distract them with toys or catmint. The birds will be very grateful for this i am sure!

  • Making a swift entrance......

    We’ve started to receive calls and emails from happy and relieved people reporting the return of swifts to British shores. Now we can start summer, right? Swifts faithfully return to nest sites year after year (if they are still there), in roof spaces, under soffits and behind fascias.

    You can help swifts in a number of ways:

    • Leave existing nest sites undisturbed
    • If improvements are needed to masonry, fascias or soffits, provide new access holes that exactly match the location of previous ones
    • If providing new nest sites, it is better to create internal nest sites as these will last longer and you’d hardly know they were there
    • If internal nest spaces aren’t possible, external nestboxes can be used

    If you have swifts in your area, add your sightings and nest sites to our survey. Use the forms on our website and return them to us so we can collate this important and valuable information – thanks!

    Discuss this on the RSPB Community

    Ducking out

    Mallards and their ducklings are everywhere it might seem. They’re still hatching and giving people scares by not nesting anywhere near water and making intrepid journeys jumping from high nests, traversing across busy roads, through cat-infested gardens, across drains, up hills, down hills until they eventually (hopefully) reach their desired destination. Again, in most cases, they will be fine on their own, but if in immediate danger, a little coaxing and guidance might be required. You can get all the information you need here.

    Discuss this on the RSPB Community

    Look out, you're under a-nest...

    Most likely a sparrows or starlings nest actually – they often nest in roofs but they’re not there to cause damage, just borrowing the shelter and safety for a little while to bring up their young ones. If you do have them in the roof, you’ll have to wait until the young have fledged as they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

    Any roofing work during this time should be avoided so as not to disturb them, and you are free to fix your roof once they’ve finished. Please bear in mind though, that these two species are both red-listed as species of conservation concern and need all the help they can get – if you have to block their access to the roof, think about putting up nest boxes for them.

     Discuss this on the RSPB Community

    A Cuckoo Blackbird!?

    A couple of confused enquirers have been in touch to let us know about confused blackbirds! At his time of year, the parental instincts of wild birds are running at fever pitch and where a nest is lost thrushes sometimes can be seen brooding or feeding the young of other birds.  Although perhaps well intended, blackbirds brooding baby robins for example, could deny the true parents access to their young. Other reports have confused young blackbirds with baby cuckoo’s. Cuckoo’s are best known for parasitizing the nests of dunnocks, reed warblers and meadow pipits.

    This is detailed in this weeks Ask An Expert

     Unusual nesting sites

    Many species look for well-hidden spots to setup home for the nesting season. For example, we know of pied wagtails nesting in royal mail trucks and cement mixers. Blue tits nesting in everything from plant pots, signposts and wall mounted ashtrays. Song thrushes in traffic lights. Robins in sheds, kettles, boots, coat pockets and even canal barges in daily use! Also, one furniture removal company even thought it good practice to bring a families garden furniture complete with nestboxes. Much to the homeowners dismay on realising there were eggs inside on arrival at the new home. Thankfully, these were swiftly returned the same day to hopefully allow the parents to continue as intended.

     One for sorrow, two for joy

    Most British members of the crow family (including magpies) will take eggs and nestlings. This can be upsetting to witness but it is completely natural. However, some people are concerned that there may be a long-term effect on songbird populations. Analysis of over 35 years of bird monitoring records found no evidence to support claims that increased numbers of magpies have caused declines in songbirds. Its important to bear in mind that although magpies are perhaps more obvious and dominant, species such as great spotted woodpeckers, House sparrows, swallows and even blue tits are known to evict the young of other birds from nests to feed or reduce competition.