January, 2012


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
  • Belfast, Birdwatch and boxes for birds!

    It's been a busy time this past month in the wildlife enquiries team, Rich and I went over to see our colleagues in the Belfast office last week to deliver some wildlife based training. Great place to go to and great to meet the team over there, they were really helpful and good fun, plus the setting in Belvoir forest park is a really nice place to work! No red squirrels sighted but the starling roost under a bridge over the Lagan on the way was mighty impressive and we spotted a hooded crow and bullfinch in the forest park!

    Back in the office it's all systems go for the Big Garden Birdwatch, we're sending out forms left right and centre and helping as many people as we can with their survey queries. The top three questions seem to be;

    1. I'm not seeing any birds at the moment as it's so mild, should I bother? Definitely yes, we need to get an accurate representation of what birds are doing so even if there is not as much activity out there as you would hope for, please still do the survey and let us know the results, even if you don't see any birds we still want to know. If we get a cold snap at the weekend which is forecast it may well force some birds into gardens to grab some extra food so make sure they have access to food and water! 
    2. Do I count birds flying over? Generally no, the birds we want recorded are those making use of the garden and the trees, hedges, bird baths, lawns and feeders within it. Birds drifting over the garden at height are not using the garden so we don't need them included. However, if you had a bird of prey swooping down into the garden and chasing other birds using the garden, they can be included.
    3. Why only an hour, all our regular birds might not turn up at that time? The survey has always been an hour long and has been held for over thirty years. This gives us comparable data so we need it to stay an hour. By watching for a whole hour at a time when garden birds are actively feeding (early morning or mid afternoon are good times), you maximise your chances of seeing the majority of your garden regulars and maybe some that usually slip under the radar. If a garden favourite doesn't turn up, don't worry, due to the huge size of the survey, some people will gain birds whilst others lose them, it should balance out when the trends are analysed.

    Have a look at the Big Garden Birdwatch page here if you want to pre-register or find out more. Good luck if you take part!

    In between BGBW queries we have been having lots of enquiries regarding nesting boxes with many people asking about making, siting and buying the right type of boxes. Here are a few links to help you on your way to providing birds withs the best accomodation for the coming breeding season.

    RSPB nestbox shop

    RSPB nestbox advice

    BTO nestbox guide

  • Spanish sparrows everywhere?

    Just thought i'd write a quick blog to say that we have had a number of reports of Spanish sparrows turning up around the UK after the news of a genuine adult male turned up in Hampshire. This has made the news in various places see here, here, here and here.

    However this little chap got here, most think that he arrived by boat, he has caused quite a stir. However, given the scarcity of such an occurence it is unlikely that he has brought his chums with him and so far the other reports from around the country have all turned out to be house sparrows.

    Lets hope all the excitement over this rare sparrow visitor does not take too much attention away from helping our own neighbourhood 'spadgers'. Now is a great time to put up nesting boxes, plant some shrubs and plan which bit of lawn you will cut and which you will leave long, the variety will help them optimise their foraging for insect food for their young.  For more tips on how to garden with wildlife in mind check out the Homes for Wildlife pages.

    Heres a picture of a male sparrow, can you tell if it is a house or Spanish?

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

  • Happy new year from the wildlife team!

    2012 has started with a buzz literally as we have had a few reports of bees being seen already as well as butterflies. Despite the stormy conditions experienced across much of the UK, it seems the relatively mild winter so far for parts of the UK is disrupting the natural world. Have you seen any creatures out in winter so far that should really be tucked up hibernating, let us know if so!

    We are gearing up for the Big Garden Birdwatch coming at the end of the month (28-29 January 2012) as this event is a really busy one for us as we deal with many of the queries generated from the survey. If you need help or want to find out how to take part have a look at the Big Garden Birdwatch pages on our website linked below.


    Many people are noticing birds starting to strip berries from various trees and shrubs now, this is a really important source of food for wild birds through the autumn and winter. It also highlights the importance of not cutting berry bearing hedgerow shrubs until the end of winter allowing various birds like song thrush, redwing and fieldfare access to this source of food. Most hedges will be cleared of berries over the next month or two allowing for them to be cut before the nesting season gets under way again in March.

    It seems that santa has been very wildlife friendly this year with lots of people receiving feeding stations and nesting boxes for Christmas, we are getting lots of queries about where to put them and how to get the best from them, have a look here and here for advice about these top actions for helping garden birds.

    The wildlife teams top tip to help garden wildlife this January is to create bundles of twigs from any hedge or tree cutting and place them amongst the vegetation in the border, creating places for invertebrates to thrive and also for birds like wrens to forage.