April, 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
  • Hare Heaven at Havergate

    As a member of the wildlife enquiries team you often get some great opportunities to find out about some excellent places to see wildlife and we are also incredibly lucky to be able to work with various other departments and staff members to further our knowledge and increase our experiences.

    In my spare time I enjoy wildlife photography and are always looking for new and interesting locations and subjects to photograph. In my local area I often spend time searching the local farmland to photograph one of my favourite British mammals, the Brown Hare, however these are nervous animals, they can run extremely fast and often these two components make them quite tricky to photograph...I do my best but getting really close can be tricky!

    Recently I heard about an amazing place in Suffolk to photograph these mammals up close and personal! Havergate Island is one of Suffolk's best kept secrets and one of the most amazing RSPB reserves out there, but the secret is out and this year the team who work on the island have been extremely pro-active in bringing people to the island to show them exactly what it has to offer! This is great news for everyone and I wanted to take a look myself! After getting in contact with Monika Koch, the Events Officer for Havergate it transpired that she had big plans for the island this year and those plans involved bringing people to Havergate to not only see the wonderful wildlife but also to engage in some artistic and creative events involving artists and photographers, much to my surprise (after Monika had thoroughly checked my credentials) I was offered the opportunity to not only see the island but to also become one of the photography tutors

    This was a fantastic chance, not only would I get to see an amazing RSPB reserve and as an RSPB employee this is really valuable but I would also get to photograph the wildlife, pass on my knowledge and meet some great people including staff, members, non members and people interested in photography!

    To properly undertake my tutoring role it was vital that I visited the island so arranged to visit twice so I could understand the lay of the land and gauge how best to see and photograph the wildlife there. For me the Hares are the stars of the island, almost upon arrival after the short 10 minute boat journey from Orford Quay I saw my first Brown Hare, it was sitting along the main footpath and quickly scampered off down the track upon seeing me. I was a little worried, the island was billed as somewhere where the Hares were incredibly tame but this one acted in the same way I have seen so many before. Regardless we moved on, scanned for birds in the hide which rewarded us with views of Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Cormorants and some Gulls, the lagoons here are a haven for birdlife and the island itself is extremely important for breeding Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls!

    Soon we reached an area of gorse, this is one of the main "Hare" areas and within minutes Hares seemed to be everywhere! Popping out of the gorse, running along the track and interacting with each, I even saw some boxing!

    Now I started to see what all the fuss was about, Hares casually strolled past me, sat and cleaned themselves on the track and nonchalantly moved around the gorse like I wasn't there! You cannot call these wild animals "tame" but certainly they are habitualised to people and this has to be the best place in the UK to see them up close and observe their behaviour, it was fantastic! The story goes that many years ago when Havergate had a resident farm the Hares were brought across to be hunted for food, the farm is long gone but the Hares are still around and this island lifestyle has afforded them a great deal of protection from hunting and predation, their natural fear of humans is somewhat missing and so they are far more tolerant of close encounters.

    The other half of the island is just as amazing, as you stroll past the wooden huts where the wardens reside you enter as throng of noise and action which is the Gull breeding colony, the Gulls are yet to start nesting but I still made sure not to disturb them as best I could, soon Common Gulls will be back on the island nesting, Havergate is such an important nesting site for Gulls and as many of our Gull species are now on the decline this makes it even more important, when the Gulls have chicks it will be a great opportunity to see them up close, most people rarely get to see Gull chicks!

    The end of the island offers another cracking view from a hide and more gorse and obviously more Hares! Whereas my first visit I was baking hot and bathed in glorious sunshine my second visit was slightly more of a wet affair and the majority of Hares I found were hunkered down looking rather grumpy and soaking wet! This one finally started to stir in amongst the gorse...

    All good things come to an end and after two great trips I am now back on dry land and far away from Havergate. It was a wonderful place to visit, it goes to show that not all the RSPB reserves have to be big, well known and full of people....many of them are small gems tucked away, some have very little access to them because of their sensitive nature and some are hardly known about. These reserves are just as important as our marquee reserves, often so little is known about them that many RSPB members and members of the public won't even realise what great work goes on, what amazing wildlife inhabits them and how much good conservation work goes on, but it does, and its making a real difference! Kieren and Aaron manage the island and do a fantastic job!

    I will be returning to Havergate, Monika's enthusiasm coupled with the charm of the island convinced me to say yes to the tutoring and I will be returning on June 22nd for one of the islands 'Days of Discovery', this will include sleeping on the island which I cannot wait for! I will get to see the sun set and then watch it rise, there will be a full moon and I will see everything in a whole new light. I would implore anyone to pay the island a visit, there are lots of opportunities to do so so there really is no excuse!

    For more information please check out this section of the Havergate website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/h/havergate/events.aspx

    Or e-mail Monika directly here: monika.koch@rspb.org.uk


  • Hot topics - April 2013

    April is always a manic month for us in the wildlife enquiries team, as it is in the natural world here in the UK! Now we have some spring like conditions, out there in the wild things are waking, nesting and generally more active! Here are 5 of the most frequently talked about topics for us so far this April!

    1. Ducks and ducklings - From the number of queries we are getting it looks like the cold weather didn't pose any problems for the UK's mallard population! Lot's of people have been finding mallards nesting in gardens, building sites and even in trees! Our advice is usually to leave them be. When they hatch it's best to allow them to pick their route but escort them at a safe distance, if you can flag down traffic so they can cross the road safely then please do so. We have some more guidance on our website which may come in handy if you find them nesting in a place with no obvious escape route!
    2. Where are they? - Given the disrupted start to spring many of our much loved migrant visitors are running late. April is generally the month when we expect to see the majority of species arriving although some like the swift leave it a bit later. Anyone who is used to having their favourite birds arriving on a set date but not finding them arriving on cue this year, don't panic there is plenty of time for them and all the signs are that the migration action is hotting up. Fingers crossed for good weather and keep your eyes to the skies! Report your sightings to Birdtrack as well please!
    3. Nesting shenanigans - Most nature lovers have at some point opted to put a nesting box up (if you have not then why not?). Now is the time when nesting material is gathered, mating takes place, quarrels break out and some early starters have chicks to feed. Unless you have a nest box camera you are forced to observe all of this from the outside, don't be tempted to have a peek. Nesting birds do have some strange habits like pecking the inside of the box or taking out lots of fresh material they brought in. I like to think the tapping around entrance holes is a kind of declaration of ownership or a bit of forward planning, roughing up the surface so the young can grab hold when they are leaving later on. However, it's not really a behaviour that is fully understood, and it won't be until we find a way of asking the blue tits!!! 
    4. Time for a trim? - Lot's of queries have come our way asking about the legality of cutting trees and hedges at this time. As a rule we advise that hedge and tree cutting should not take place between March and August as this is the key nesting season for wild birds. If you are aware of an active nest in a tree or hedge that is lined up for cutting, point it out to the contractors mentioning that it is afforded protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Check out the information on the Hedgelink website.
    5. Tapping at the window - Every year during the spring many birds get really confused by the glass in our houses, offices and sheds. The males see the reflection as another male intruding on their patch and will peck at it trying to chase off this unwanted invader, with frustrating results! The best solution to this that we have found is to cover the glass where the bird is attacking with clingfilm, taped round the edges. This should cloud the reflection and remove the trigger for the behaviour, giving the bird a chance to carry on with chasing off real rivals and hopefully preventing any harm from coming to him. Collisions with windows peak at this time of year as well so please consider putting some transfers on the outside of the glass to alert birds to the presence of the glass.
    Got any hot topics that you want to discuss, leave a comment!
  • Some do’s and don’ts on feeding our feathered friends

    It’s been a tough winter and spring for the wildlife in our gardens. In Wildlife Enquiries, we get a number of calls and emails asking for advice on feeding the birds, the right type of feeders, what to feed and when.

    Some people think that they should only feed the birds through the winter months when there is less natural food available. It’s actually OK to feed birds all year round as supplementary feeding only makes up about 10% of a bird’s diet, and they are drawn to natural food over supplementary food. This is one reason why at times they can seem to abandon our gardens and feeders only to return later. During the summer months the supplementary food can really help parent birds who are busy collecting food for their young. It enables them to grab some food for themselves using as little energy as possible. If there is a shortage of food due to weather conditions, supplementary food can help with the shortfall when feeding their young.


    • Any wild bird seed mix is great; if they contain peanuts ensure that they are smaller than dog mixer biscuits
    • Sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, mild grated cheese, sultanas, raisins and currants (soaked overnight), pinhead oatmeal, fat balls (remove green nets if they have them) and suet blocks, apples, pears, plumbs, grapes and other soft fruit, mealworms and wax worms are all fine
    • Hard fat cut from unsalted meat is fine, so long as it’s well tethered so the birds can take small pieces from it
    • Bread is OK to feed, but in small quantities. Bread does not have any great value as a food source, and can just act as filler. If you want to put bread out for your birds, use it as part of a balanced diet with a variety of food
    • Peanuts can carry a harmful fungus, so to ensure your peanuts are Aflatoxin free buy them from a reliable source
    • You can feed meat and pet food to birds, but only put out small amounts that can be cleared in a day. Fresh meat needs to be cut into thin strips to resemble worms
    • Brown or white rice and potatoes (without salt added) are fine; just ensure that they are cooked first. You can feed pastry cooked or uncooked
    • Dry breakfast cereal (ignore wet and mushy cereal), crushed up in small quantities (make sure water is available). Porridge oats need to be fed dry straight from the packet; cooked porridge is too glutinous
    • Clean your feeders regularly! A 10% disinfection solution is suitable, but thoroughly rinse before using again


    • Avoid mouldy foods; most moulds are harmless to birds but some can cause respiratory infections. If the bird food turns mouldy, discard it and try putting less out so the birds clear the food up
    • Polyunsaturated margarines and vegetable oils contain less energy and cause problems if they get smeared into the feathers of the bird
    • Don’t put out any food that contains salt; birds cannot metabolise salt and it ends up being a toxin to them. Salted peanuts and nuts should never be fed
    • Fats from roasting tins and grill pans are soft and can cause problems if it gets into the bird’s feathers. It will also soften quicker enabling harmful bacteria to form
    • Do not put out whole peanuts for the birds as there is the potential for choking. Ideally put the peanuts in a ridged mesh feeder so small amounts can be taken at a time as the peanuts break up, or finely chop if you have to feed from the ground
    • Don’t give milk to birds or hedgehogs, they cannot digest it
    • Don’t feed desiccated coconut as it can swell inside the bird. Coconut in the shell is OK
    • Avoid food that chicks can’t eat during the breeding season; don’t leave out loose peanuts, large pieces of bread or dry, hard food

    Whatever you feed your birds, don’t forget to provide some water for them to drink and bathe in, a shallow plant dish is ideal and easy to keep clean. Take a look at our online shop for details on the different types of feeders and food available for our feathered friends. Remember, after filling your feeders and putting food out for the birds, always wash your hands afterwards.