September, 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
  • The Daily Pigeon

    No, this isn't a new paper, this phrase cropped up when we were taking a training course at one of our regional offices. It seems to be a recurring theme across the RSPB that all the staff dealing with enquiries get at least one pigeon related query a day! Literally whilst writing this I had my 'daily pigeon'!

    The queries are pretty varied but the general theme is one of disdain for our most common Columbid, the woodpigeon. This heavyweight of the pigeon world is now common and widespread in gardens across the UK as well as being a common and familiar bird of the wider countryside. The food we provide for wild birds is an irresistible attraction to them and they have figured out how to get at the food in many of our bird feeding contraptions. Is this a bad thing? Many people seem to think so!

    The sight of a large and clumsy looking woodpigeon on a bird feeder seems to drive some people to 'feeder rage', unhappy that this 'brute' of a bird is taking the food intended for the smaller garden visitors. The word greedy often gets thrown at them, this I disagree with, it's not greed driving them to eat more than the tiny birds it shares the garden with, it's large size means it simply needs to eat more to survive! However, they can consume lots of food and if you are trying to feed birds on a budget you might want to think about caging the food off so that only small birds can get to it using ground protectors or similar like those shown on the link here to our shop. The woodpigeons will easily find other food so don't feel like you are being hard on them!

    Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    Another comment we hear quite often is that woodpigeons scare off other birds. Are pigeons scary to other birds? They are seed eaters so small birds generally don't live in fear of pigeons however, size matters in the pecking order when food is at hand. If you are a tiny bird and you see a hulking large bird flying at you, it makes sense to back off so that you don't end up getting squashed. Woodpigeons can use their size to be intimidating and yes they can sometimes get stroppy, especially if during courtship but they generally don't drive other birds away.

    Of the other pigeon themed queries the most frequent involve ID's, we've got a few species of pigeon and dove (what makes a pigeon and what makes a dove isn't documented, the terms are often interchangeable) which you can read about on our bird family guide here.

    At this time of year many woodpigeons and collared doves will be breeding, taking advantage of the seed, berries and other natural foods available. If you are finding your blood pressure boiling whenever you see these giants in the garden, sit back and watch them for a while, they are quite good entertainment if you give them a chance, we do speak to people who adore them! If you still don't like them, cutting off the free food is the best approach to reducing the time they spend in your garden.

  • Hot topics this September!

    Traditionally for us here in wildlife enquiries the autumn months see a lull in queries in comparison to the hectic spring and summer months and the busy winters. However, there are still loads of things that we have to keep tabs on, here are just a few of the topical queries we are getting and big issues that are keeping us busy at the moment;

    • Vanishing birds - As per usual, the normal changes in bird behaviour that occur in the autumn are baffling people across the land. Despite luxurious bird feeders and crystal clear bird baths, birds shun our attempts to help them by sticking to their natural instincts and seeking out wild food in the form of seeds, berries, fruit and nuts. Even the garden favourites like the blue tits will stay away in many areas preferring the life of a roving mixed flock seeking out insect food in the woodland canopies and hedgerows. Our main message is not to worry, they will be back when they are ready!
    • Stranded seabirds - We are starting to get a few reports of seabirds being found inland, some in a bad way. Just this week we have spoken to people who have found manx shearwater and a fulmar, if you find one yourself, please contact the RSPCA as they should be able to assist with rescue and rehabilitation. Be careful with handling some seabirds, gannets for example have very sharp beaks which can do some serious damage.
    • Lost racing pigeons - We have been inundated recently with queries about lost racers, our advice is to contact the relevant racing pigeon group with the birds ring number if the bird is in trouble, if not then usually if it's left to it's own devices it will continue on it's journey when it is ready to do so, even racing pigeons need to rest and refuel despite being athletes of the domestic bird world!
    • Badgers - Old brock has been dealt a rough hand by the government, they have granted a licence to begin a trial cull of free roaming badgers in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence and opposition to this method which promises little gain with potential to make matters worse through peturbation (the disruption of badger social structure resulting in their dispersal over wide areas). The RSPB is opposed to the cull in favour of vaccination which we are undertaking at our Highnam Wood nature reserve. There are petitions running here and here should you wish to add your voice to the many in opposition to this scheme

    Last but certainly not least - the Law Commission consultation on wildlife has been open since August and runs until 30 November 2012. If you care about our wildlife and want to see it afforded the protection it deserves, now is the opportunity to have your say and to make a real difference. You can find the links to the consultation, where to send you comments and some pointers on the main issues we will be raising on the links here and here. Birds like the hen harrier need a legal system that gives them a chance to survive, with only one pair breeding in England this year we need to speak up for this species now so please take a few minutes to write a letter and send it to the consultation saying why you think wildlife needs protecting and what you would like to see changed in the law to make it fit for purpose! Thank you in advance!

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

  • Butterfly bonanza and back to bird feeding!

    September is a cracking month for observing butterflies! Many of the buddleias dotted around the gardens and wider countryside are a magnet for many of the autumn-flying species but also take the time to check out ivy for the second hatch of holly blues and any brambles with late flowers may still host some woodland species.  A question we have been asked recently, is it normal for butterflies to fly in the autumn, yes it is, if the weather stays mild in the autumn you can expect a number of species including red admirals and peacocks to fly until November, occasionally beyond on warm winters days!

    Another regular query we get about our fluttery friends is how best to attract them into the garden? Well, the first thing is diversity, different butterflies need different food plants for their caterpillars and different food plants to get nectar from, so a garden brimming with butterflies is usually a garden with a range of different habitats compromising a range of different plant species. A wild patch can be a great feature, nettles, brambles and ivy and allsorts of other usually unwanted wild plants are key to the success of many butterflies so leaving an area to 'go wild' can be a good step. If you have not got room for that you could try planting buddleia as it is an easy way to provide butterflies with a quick fuel stop. Try looking for Buddleia globosa, it's globe shaped orange blooms are just a little bit different and really popular with nectaring insects. If you would rather go for a wildflower border for butterflies rather than a shrub, some plants to consider adding to borders for the benefit of butterflies can include verbena, ice plant, lavender, birds-foot trefoil, red valerian and Michaelmas daisies to name just a few!

    Butterflies also use dense foliage to hide over night, the other evening whilst picking some blackberries I watched a red admiral come into a thicket of tangled ivy, bramble and blackthorn and tuck itself away , such a brightly coloured creature instantly vanished amongst the tangle of branches. If you have a patch of ivy in your garden it is worth watching in the late afternoon to see what comes in to spend the night there!

    Many birds seem to be bursting out from their late summer/autumn moults already, we are seeing some very dapper looking robins out and about singing their autumn tunes as well as some very busy mixed flocks tumbling along hedgerows. There is still a wealth of natural food out there but you will probably start to see a bit more activity around bird feeders in the next few weeks if you have not already, as there are plenty of birds on the move!

    Please share your butterfly observations and bird feeder shenanigans on our forums!