November, 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
  • Birds on ships and Birch Bashing

    We have had many reports of swans on their own, which triggers queries about whether they can be found a mate or whether they can cope on their own. These are often birds chased away from their parents' territory. They are fine and they can find their own mates.

    These birds are turning up in gardens, which can be a surprise. Many are released into the wild for shooting so there are millions of them about. Some manage to find their way into gardens, even in urban areas.

    Birds on ships
    A few reports of birds hitching a ride on ships. We received a great photo of a willow warbler on a ferry coming into Newcastle. We also had two queries in a week from people on the Madeira to Antigua cruises. One had found an exhausted petrel at sea just leaving Madeira. They fed it raw fish and released it to sea when they reached Antigua. It flew off quite happily apparently. The other was a bird of prey, identified as a juvenile peregrine. Which was spotted, perched on the ship in the middle of the Atlantic. It was hunting from the ship and had managed to catch an equally lost swift and, according to the person who saw it, was also chasing flying fish!

    Birch Bashing
    On Thursday the Wildlife enquiries team left the office, put on our walking boots and outdoor clothing to get a taste of ‘hands on’ conservation. We decided to help out our Warden, here at The Lodge, and pull up Birch saplings on our developing heathland. Birch and pine grow particularly well in acidic soils and, when left unchecked, can soon thrive and encroach on open heathland, eventually shading out heather and other plants.  
     Heather can survive in areas rich in sunlight but the patchiness of these areas makes them unsuitable for many of the animals and other plants that would otherwise grow and thrive. Trees stop sunlight reaching the ground to give the vital warmth that many heathland plants and animals need. Birds like the Nightjar which feeds on the Heathland Moths and Insects and Dartford warbler, which will perch on top of a gorse stem to sing, but is often seen as a small flying shape bobbing between bushes. We are hoping to encourage these species to our Heath land here at RSPB headquarters.

    While it was challenging to pull up those stubborn birch saplings, it was a chance to be on the frontline of the RSPB conservation work. Despite a few blisters and aches, one of the highlights was seeing a flock of Siskins and Redpolls fleeting from trees around where we were working.

  • Waxwings Galore

    Waxwings are arriving in large numbers this autumn. The numbers that come to the UK vary each year depending on food availability and this year looks like a good one for seeing them. Most sightings are on the east coast of Scotland as this is first land fall for them but they have spread to other areas. Nick Moran, from the British Trust for Ornithology, said: ‘Normally there’s a pattern of arrival. They are usually first seen in the North and East and they filter down the country. ‘This time they are everywhere above a line drawn between London and the Wirral – they have been seen in Kent and East Anglia as well as the Isle of Mull.’ The largest flocks, containing nearly 500 waxwings, arrived in Scotland a week ago.

    Grey wagtails
    These birds are usually seen in gardens in winter. They breed by fast flowing streams but come into more urban areas in the autumn. They are often confused with yellow wagtails which are summer visitors so its late in the year for any of these to still be about.

    Land for Sale
    The Governments announcement that they will be selling off forests has generated a few queries. We are keen to make sure the land sale doesn't adversely affect the valuable wildlife sites that the Forestry Commission own.

    Starling roosts
    More queries about where to see the large roost. We have also started to receive some about starlings getting into roofs to roost. Unlike nest sites, roosting places can be blocked up provided there are no birds still inside. But make sure you help this red listed species by letting them co-exist with you or by putting up nesting boxes.

    Woodcocks and windows
    These queries have started up again as migrant woodcocks start coming into the UK. They have a habit of flying into windows on migration. Any unusual brown birds with a very long bill in a garden is likely to be a woodcock.

    As well as the starlings, we are also getting queries now about where to watch the wintering geese now they are starting to arrive. Sites such as Vane Farm, Snettisham and Loch of Strathbeg are good to name a few.

    Lots of sparrowhawk complaints and queries this past week or so. They are coming into gardens more in search of food. Sparrowhawks don't specialise in particular species, but take whatever is available and easy to catch. As a result, the most frequently caught birds are numerous and conspicuous, or are sick, old, weak or injured. The female takes prey up to wood pigeon size, but the smaller male does not often catch anything bigger than the mistle thrush. Although a plucky male sometimes goes for prey much bigger than itself.