January, 2013


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
  • Likely visitors in the snow - a quick guide!

    We've been inundated with enquiries about unusual birds venturing into gardens since the snow hit. Here is a quick picture guide (illustrations by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com) ) to some of the birds that are likely to have been causing some of the confusion. Before diving into it I wanted to point out that anyone spotting any of these birds would be helping out the monitoring work by ourselves, the BTO and our other partners by adding the sightings to Birdtrack as well as the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend.

    Fieldfare - just a bit bigger than a blackbird, likely to be seen near any apples or berry bushes, quite belligerent at times and often seen along with redwings. A winter visitor to our shores and will seek shelter and food in gardens when the weather is harsh. 

    Redwing - a winter visitor like the fieldfare but smaller, about the size of a song thrush, makes a high pitch call and like it's bigger cousin often seen in gardens during harsh weather taking apples, berries or sifting through leaf litter for invertebrates.

    Blackcap - this warbler is feisty and will try to take over the feeding station, best to spread your food around the garden in order to keep the peace. The blackcaps wintering here will breed in Eastern Europe leaving in the spring when our breeding population of blackcaps arrive from the warmer south. The female has a brown cap. Fond of fruit, fat snacks, cheese and mealworms.

    Grey Wagtail - this river dweller often turns up in cold snaps and even ventures on to garden bird feeding stations. Most likely to be seen walking around in the snow picking up bits of fat or cheese or mealworms.

    Woodcock - this shy wader of the woodland often ventures into gardens where it seeks areas that are not frozen so it can search for worms in the soil, occasionally seen out in the day time but most active during the night.

    Long-tailed tit - likely to be seen in a group jostling for space on nut feeders. These tiny birds are very busy and rarely stay put for long but in winter they can be regulars to garden feeders.

    Reed bunting - often described as 'like a sparrow but not' to us, these birds venture into gardens when it's cold from their farmland and wetland homes.

    There are plenty more birds that are causing confusion out there including bramblings, waxwings and even a sanderling turned up on a driveway in Newmarket. Hopefully this helps and don't forget to record your sightings on Birdtrack!




  • More winter tips from the wildlife team

    Cold out isn't it!!!

    We're getting a flurry of queries from all over the UK about how best to help our feathered friends in these harsh conditions so here are few more tips on what you can do to help them out!

    • Feed little and often - the cold and damp conditions can mean food gets frozen or feeders get clogged, check them regularly and give them a clean when you can.
    • Top up your bird bath - birds need to drink even in the snow so if your birdbath is frozen, try this, empty it and cover the inside with a tough plastic sheet that extends over the edges. Fill it up with water and put a ping pong ball in to move the surface around to prevent freezing during the day. It may freeze overnight but in the morning you won't have to break the ice as you can just pull it out using the plastic sheet. Replace and refill the next day.
    • Raid your pantry - if you are snowed in then you may still be able to help your feathered friends by putting out some food they may be hidden away in your kitchen. Cooked rice, porridge oats, mild grated cheese, dried raisins and sultanas, apples, pears, pastry, mixed nuts (unsalted!) and lard (make yoru own fatballs!) are all good for birds.
    • Frozen park lakes - many wildfowl have no choice but to sit the bad weather out on the ice. If you want to help them try offering some green veg leaves, fruit, cook potato and special duck pellets. Your local lake may also have herons and egrets, they may appreciate you taking a trip to the fishmonger for some fresh fish treats - I think sprats are usually available and can be slid out on the ice.
    • Things not to do! Don't feed anything with high salt levels, dessicated coconut or chocolate, don't put any food out in mesh bags and the only thing going into a bird bath should be water!

    Hope you can all find time to get out and enjoy the snow, fingers crossed we can all do our bit to help make it that bit easier for our wildlife! Keep an eye out for these chaps on your travels!

  • January tips and tricks

    Happy new year!

    2013 has started off much as 2012 finished with plenty of the wet stuff around. However don't let a bit of mud and rain stop you from doing a few bits around the garden to help out the wildlife. I managed to brave the conditions and got out for a while to do some pruning, hopefully to encourage thicker growth this spring to create conditions ideal for nesting birds. I bundled some of the cuttings up and placed them in the borders where I hope to attract in a range of invertebrates. As tempting as it is to cut back the dead herbaceous and flowering plant stems try to leave them until March as they may be sheltering some wintering minibeasts and may also provide seed food for some garden birds like the goldfinch. Check to see if any of your hedges need a trim now that most have ceased to bear fruit or berries, if you have noticed any that still have berries on them keep a close eye as waxwings will be scouring the land looking for any berries and can turn up anywhere. Most of the hawthorn hedges, rowans and hollies will have already been hit by the birds leaving the later ripening ornamental species like cotoneaster and pyracantha that are planted around our parks, gardens and towns as likely places to spot these stunning visitors.

    One thing you might want to take a closer look at in January is ivy. At this time of year ivy can be a lifesaver for birds as it's purple to black berries should just be ripening as most of the other berry crops are coming to an end. Most of the ivy plants you will see across the UK will produce berries although the wild type dark leaved hedera helix is usually the best for berry production, the  variegated varieties don't seem to deliver as good a crop in my experience. In the queue of birds that eat ivy berries are woodpigeons, blackbirds, greenfinches and starlings to name just a few. It's also likely to provide birds with a safe roosting habitat during the long winter nights due to the dense foliage.

    Chris Shields (rspb-images.com)

    With all this water around creating a pond in your garden might not be the first thing on your mind but January is actually a good time to think about creating one. Not only will it create a wildlife attraction for drinking and bathing birds but all kinds of aquatic and semi-aquatic life can be attracted into the garden. A pond for wildlife doesn't have to be huge, small water features can be just as popular with wildlife so if you are looking for a new project in the garden for the new year please consider a pond. We've got some tips to help you here and Pond Conservation have also got some great information here. Whilst it's pretty mild and the soil is soft it's definitely something to think about! It's worth watching ponds for activity, frogs have spawned very early in spring in recent years and a mild January may get them stirring.

    After Christmas you may have some left over food items that you just can't face eating! If you are unable to face any more pastry, Christmas cake, mild cheeses or mixed nuts (as long as they are not salted) then all of these items can be left out for the birds.

    Don't forget to sign up for our Big Garden Birdwatch survey later this month!