Summer has finally arrived (for some), all be it late, birds have been struggling to raise their young in the wet, cold weather and now they have chicks it looks like they are disappearing from view. Where have they all gone and when will they return?
During the breeding season, birds will hold their territories and attract their mates by singing and often physically defending their space. Often at this time of year you will hear less bird song as they focus their attention on raising their young and finding food for the numerous mouths they have to feed. Once the young birds have left the nest, the adults will continue to feed their young for a few weeks and teach them what they need to know for their life ahead, before they go their separate ways. Part of this process includes utilising the abundance of natural food that is available to them. Many birds will leave our gardens and find seeds, fruits and berries to incorporate into their diet, from the wider area, including scrub land in our urban areas and the countryside, especially at harvest time when there is discarded, split seed on the ground. Unsurprisingly, many birds are attracted to the natural food in preference to the food we place at our feeding stations. Supplementary feeding only accounts for about 10% of a bird’s diet, and once the autumn months approach and the temperatures drop the birds will return to the feeders.
House Sparrow feeding their young - Steve Austin (rspb-images.com)
Towards the end of the breeding season, birds will naturally moult their feathers. Parent birds have little time to preen and clean their feathers, giving some birds a shabby, unkempt appearance. Birds will moult at different rates; some will lose a few feathers at a time, where others will lose most of their feathers in a short time, giving them a bald look. Mite infestations are often another cause for feather loss, often on the bird’s head, but once they go through their moult they will grow new feathers and have normal plumage again. While they are going through their moult and replacing their flight feathers they can be vulnerable to attack from predators and territorial disputes. This results in birds finding deep cover in our gardens and parks while their new feathers grow. The moulting process can take anything up to eight weeks, but it does vary from bird to bird.
Blackbird taking a bath - Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)
You may find that you still have the odd visitor to your feeders through this lean period, but once the autumn and winter months arrive and the berries have been eaten, the birds will return to our gardens and feeders.
Mid summer is a fantastic time to get outdoors and explore new places with wildlife of all shapes and sizes out there waiting to be discovered, so what to look for and where?
Well, given all of the rain of late, lets start with wetlands! Ponds, riverbanks and marshes are all going to be brimming with life in July. Watch where you are treading though as some of that life includes tiny froglets which will be moving away from the water and into the grass during damp weather. The whole ground can feel like its moving at times! July is a great time to see dragon and damsel flies on the wing, look for the big brown hawkers, their rusty coloured wings glistening in the sunlight. Keep an eye out for other strange looking flies such as caddis and stoneflies that might be perching on marginal vegetation.
Swift nestlings are approaching fledging during July and it won't be long after they make their first flight before they head away from our shores towards the warmer south. Make the most of watching their dazzling aerial displays overhead as they gather in big flocks. Keep an eye out for the hobby, an aerial predator that can pursue and capture even dragonflies and swifts, their young will also be approaching fledging soon and the parents will be working hard to keep them fed. The cold and damp conditions will have made their lives really tricky so far.
Richard Allen (rspb-images.com)
Many garden and woodland birds are becoming increasingly difficult to spot at this time of year as they take their young into dense foliage and are now singing less often. Although it might be a bit quieter now with regards to bird activity in gardens, woodland rides and along hedgerows, there is still plenty going on. Bramble flowers are a major attraction to bees, some attractive beetles including longhorns and butterflies, meadow browns and comma's seem to be over every patch of bramble I have come across recently! Despite the wet summer so far, the few warm and dry days we have seen have tempted out good numbers of some of our more common but still stunning species like the ringlet, small copper and marbled white in grassy areas. It's definitely one of the best times of year to try to get some close up views of butterflies, but be warned, spiders are growing fast and will be hiding in the foliage, you may be lucky enough to come across some eye catching arachnids.
Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)
If small wonders are not your thing then the late summer is a good time to spot deer prior to their autumn rutting season, heathlands are a good place to watch this wildlife spectacle. If size of numbers is more your thing then maybe a trip to the coast is the place to be with lots of gannets, auks and manx shearwaters moving up and down the coasts, often coming close to shore to feed. The late summer months also bring the largest fish in our waters close to shore, the basking shark, although you may need to get on a boat to get the best views.
Where are you going in July and what wildlife do you hope to see? We would love to hear from you! If you want some inspiration or just fancy trying out somewhere new, have a look at our reserves pages here. If you want to share your pictures and trip reports we have a forum for just that on our communities called where to watch wildlife. You can also post your questions on the forum about what to watch and where to watch it and we'll try our best to help.
Here in Wildlife Enquiries it's prime time for Gull related enquiries. Not a day goes past when we don't get a call or e-mail regarding the welfare of Gulls that have taken residence on the roof of a building whether that be a house, factory or school. These roofs are the urban version of rocky outcrops and cliff tops and provide a safe and suitable place for the adults to make a nest. In fact our towns and cities in general are ideal for these birds to make their home although not everyone is keen on this.
All seven breeding gull species are birds of conservation concern here in the UK. Populations of herring and lesser black-backed gulls have increased in urban areas, both inland and on the coast. This is despite overall declines in some species, particularly herring gulls (which on the coast have declined by 50% since 1970). Five gull species are on the amber list of ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’. The herring gull is now on the red-list and is a priority species in the UKBAP.
It is not always clear why some of our Gull species are declining in their traditional maritime environments but climate change, pollution and over fishing due to changes in commercial fishing practices could be playing a major role. With these pressures many Gull species have moved inland where they are afforded a safe place to nest and an abundance of free food both in our rubbish tips and on the streets due to over flowing bins and being fed.
Is it any wonder that they have taken to our towns and cities?!
Nesting in amongst human habitation does have its benefits but can also have its repercussions, not everyone likes Gulls, they are messy, smelly and loud and this is certainly not everyone's cup of tea but they need us and they need our urban environment until we can fully understand why their traditional environment is under threat and try to work towards restoring this.
The nest for the common urban nesters such as Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gull is a well constructed ‘cup’ made of twigs and grasses. The clutch of two to four eggs is incubated by both sexes for up to 30 days in May and June. The chicks hatch fully covered in down, and are fed by both parents. The chicks leave the nest and move to the relative safety of nearby vegetation when only a few days old. The parents look after them until they fledge after five or six weeks and for a period afterwards. Gulls are long lived birds - the larger species only start to breed when four years old, and some can live to their upper twenties.
This period when the young has fledged is a very dangerous time and often the young chicks can fall from their high rise safety and end up literally anywhere! Gardens, balconies, lower roofs and courtyards seem a popular place for Gull chicks to end up and this is perfectly normal for them but not always for us! Our advice here is to always leave these chicks where they are, often the adults know exactly where they are and will continue to look after them up until the point where the young can fly. If the chick can be placed back on the roof where it nested that is ideal but often this is not an option.
Adult Gulls can be very defensive of their precious baby and will dive bomb anything that goes near it, this is where we receive a large majority of our calls and we try to offer the best advice. If people can avoid contact with these chicks that is the best procedure, try to enter and leave properties away from the Gull chick, do not approach it or try to pick it up and do not linger near it. If needs be an umbrella or hat can be temporarily worn to avoid the worst of the dive bombing, remember this behaviour is only temporary and will not last all summer, if you can do all you can for the Gull then this will save a life and help a species.
Often their is such a dislike for Gulls that people want them removed which is understandable and we do sympathise with people. Please remember that all species of gull are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. This makes it illegal to intentionally or, in Scotland, recklessly injure or kill any gull or damage or destroy an active nest or its contents. In Scotland, it is also illegal to prevent birds from accessing their nest, and in Northern Ireland it is illegal to disturb any nesting bird.
"Seagulls" are a traditional part of our coastal towns here in the UK, we don't want to see them dissapear from our landscape, it would be like losing Fish n' Chips...which ironically they are quite fond of too!