May, 2012

Wildlife

Wildlife
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
  • Who's fledging?

    As we're approaching the end of May there are many birds that are close to fledging. You may have seen some already as the first brood of starlings, house sparrows, robins, wrens and blackbirds are already up and away in many places!

    Coming soon to a garden near you could be young jackdaws and crows, woodpeckers, blue tits, great tits and finches! Out in the woods you might be lucky to catch a glimpse of young tawny owls branching or long-tailed tits lined up waiting to be fed. In the ground level vegetation young blackcaps might be tucked away, it's a very busy time for birds! Remember the golden rule, leave baby birds alone - their parents have the situation under control!

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    For some species it is still very early in their nesting season, late migrants such as the swift and spotted flycatcher may only have just returned to their nesting sites. Their time with us here in the UK is brief and they don't have much room for error, they have to get it right first time unlike the resident birds that can have subsequent broods if things go wrong at the first attempt. Have you got your swifts back yet? If so remember to record them via the swift survey via the link below.

    http://www.rspb.org.uk/thingstodo/surveys/swifts/index.aspx

    A question often posed to us here in wildlife enquiries is when does the breeding season stop? Well it depends on a number of things, which species you are talking about and what conditions are like in terms of weather and food availibility. Some species like herons and crossbills for example are often in their nests before spring arrives whilst collared doves and woodpigeons often decide to nest well into the autumn and winter. Generally speaking for most birds in gardens the peak nesting activity will occur through the period between March and August. If conditions are favourable, species that have multiple broods like swallows and house martins may continue to nest well into September.

    June is perhaps the best time to look out for newly fledged birds, don't forget to record them if you are taking part in our Make Your Nature Count summer survey between 2-10 June, to find out more about taking part have a look at the link below.

    http://www.rspb.org.uk/naturecount/index.aspx

  • Cat Attack

    It's that time of year again when baby birds are springing out of nests all over the country putting themselves in all sorts of danger. It is quite natural for numbers of young birds to fall victim to predation, that is part of nature and the very reason why our smaller garden birds have such large broods.

    Unfortunately 'un-natural' predators are also lurking around the corner in the form of our domestic cats, and here in the Wildlife Enquiries team we have to deal with our fair share of moggie maulings which is always such a difficult phone call to receive. The UK is full of animal lovers and we can understand that people love their feline friends just as much as they treasure their garden birds.

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Our gardens are increasingly becoming vital for the survival of some of our most endangered species, the red-listed House Sparrow, Starling and Song Thrush are all reliant on our gardens and the food, shelter, nesting opportunities and water that they provide. Their natural sites are under threat and we at the RSPB are committed to finding out why and helping to restore these but for now they need our gardens and fledgling survival needs to be as high as possible and the threat of natural predators is already out there.

    By simply fitting your cat with a correctly fitted collar and bell combo you can be helping garden bird survival and potentially reducing predation by a third. In a UK survey by volunteer cat owners results showed that cats equipped with a bell returned 41 per cent fewer birds and 34 per cent fewer mammals than those with a plain collar. Those equipped with an electronic sonic device returned 51 per cent fewer birds and 38 per cent fewer mammals, compared with cats wearing a plain collar.

    At the RSPB we also advise that feeders should be placed about 2m from dense vegetation, preventing surprise attacks from cats but giving birds easy access to cover. Place nest boxes where cats cannot get close, as they might prevent parent birds from getting to the box.

    Birds are most active in the garden an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, so it is helpful to regularly feed cats indoors at these times. If you are concerned about a baby bird in your garden, then remove your cat from the area and keep it indoors until the bird’s parents have moved the chick away.

    We also have a very good section on our website about Cat Deterrents which can be accessed here - http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/catdeterrents.aspx and sell Cat Deterrents in our online shop which can be accessed here - http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/bird-food-and-feeding/protect-your-birds/catwatch-cat-deterrent.html

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    We hope this has gone some way to informing people a bit more about Cats and the problems they can cause our garden birds. It is important that people take this seriously and do all they can to help, we do not want to ruin the fun of cats but birds are our major concern and always will be.

  • Soaked in spring - winners and losers

    The last few weeks have been pretty miserable weather wise for most humans in the UK, only the hardiest souls have braved the wet, windy and cold around the The Lodge. Have you braved the elements in the last few weeks, was it worth it? I've tried to get out and about in between showers and it has been rewarding with lots of passage wheatears (10 yesterday!) and some great views of a cuckoo, I think it's worth the risk! But with the cold weather, heavy rain and flooding, the wildlife in the UK has had some significant challenges to confront, how have they coped?

    The biggest losers as a result of the heavy rain fall and flooding are going to waterfowl that have nested close by to rising water courses. We have had a number of reports of swan, grebe, moorhen and duck nests that have been washed away or submerged. This tragic end to the nesting attempt is very difficult to watch from a human perspective, we are helpless to intervene in these situations. However, as it is still relatively early in the season, many of those that have lost a nest may still have time to try again, hopefully without the risk of flooding.

    Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)

    The cold and damp weather will have put a great deal of pressure on small insectivorous birds, they will have to work hard to keep their energy levels up, if they are feeding young at the moment or preparing to breed, they will face an uphill battle if it stays cool as their insect food may be hard to come by. Blue and great tits should be close to hatching young at this time if they haven't already so they would be looking to take insects back to their nests to give their young enough protein to grow fast and healthy, if it stays cold and wet definitely think about providing live mealworms as this may give them the extra boost they need to produce successful young.

    All of our summer migrants will have had a tough journey so far with stormy conditions across much of Europe, most of the species are back in the UK now but numbers are still down, expect a continued flow of migrants into the UK over the next couple of weeks. The ospreys that returned in April are on eggs at a number of sites, meaning that they have to sit out the rain, these hardy birds are dedicated to raising the next generation but do look thoroughly cheesed off in a rain storm if you have been following on the various webcams. Other birds of prey may also be struggling but spare a thought for the nations barn owls, all this wet weather will have greatly reduced their opportunities to hunt and their prey may be hard to come by.

    So which birds are making hay whilst the sun isn't shining? From comments on the forums and from walking around the local area I would say blackbirds, song and mistle thrush and robins are taking full advantage of the wet ground to provide masses of worms to their hungry young. We've been watching recently fledged juveniles of all of the above species and parents taking beakfuls of worms to them, they should have a good year! If lapwings have managed to keep their eggs above the water then when the young hatch, the wet and muddy pools should provide a rich diet of insects so it could work out well for some pairs.

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    One species that has been in news recently as a result of it's continued decline as a breeding species in the UK is the starling. They are well on the way to rearing their first brood and the wet weather will give them the opportunity to get to worms and leatherjackets in lawns, grazed pasture and meadows. Look out for the noisy brown juveniles in the next week or so. The damp conditions have also led to an armada of slugs and snails ready munch their way through new shoots and prized plants, great for hedgehogs, toads and frogs, not so good for gardeners. For ideas about non-toxic pest control have a look here, please avoid reaching for harmful slug pellets that contain metaldehyde though as the slugs killed may end up being fed to hungry thrush chicks!

    If it does clear up soon and we get a blast of warm summer sun, expect some frantic activity with the emergence of lots of insects and birds hot on their tails ready to eat them!