April, 2014

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • Dancing Dunnocks - it's always the quiet ones

    When you give nature a home in your garden, you will always see things that you never see anywhere else.

    It's not that these things don't happen elsewhere - it's just that in the garden you spend quality time and see all the detail.

    And this week I was fortunate enough to see something new for me - dancing Dunnocks.

    Now some of you may know the Dunnock by one of its old names - the Hedge Sparrow or Hedge Accentor. It is a rather unobtrusive little bird, and I'm lucky enough to have several confiding individuals in my garden, such as this one photographed last week...



    Up close, they are such subtle beauties - look at those chestnut streaks on its flanks.

    And they do have this unconventional love life - there can be one male and one female, or one male and two females, or vice versa, or even two males and two females (what is known as polgynandry!).

    With so much sexual intrigue, it is fairly easy to see games of kiss chase going on around the garden, with wild wing waving and soft singing.

    But this week I looked out and saw a Dunnock crouched absolutely motionless on the ground. Immediately behind her tail (and I can say 'her' because that is the receptive position of a female ready to receive a mate) was her suitor (or one of them) and he was literally bouncing manically from side to side, as if on a pogo stick.

    This went on for maybe 15 seconds, before he finally did one big 'boing' and leapfrogged over her head. Amazingly, that last leap is the moment of mating, a split-second affair after all that build up.

    The secret to giving Dunnocks a home is to have dense shrubberies, flowerbeds and soft fruit areas (as much for the tangled structure and insects that visit as the fruit itself). And of course hedges are their favourite.

    And, given that this is another species whose populations nationally are well down on their levels 40 years ago, anything you can do to help is welcome.

  • The tale of the recycling Robin

    I love hearing your stories from your own gardens, and this week Mary Payne got in contact with a heart-warming (and undoubtedly egg-warming) tale.

    Mary is in Buckinghamshire, and last year she and her husband, Chris, were terribly upset to find a dead Robin inside their garage.

    They felt even worse when they discovered she had built a nest in a plastic storage box inside the garage (it is just the female Robin that nest builds).

    They had no idea she had gone in there and had inadvertently shut her in. (A timely warning to garage and shed-owners, says Mary.)

    A week or so ago, Mary noticed some serious Robin construction work going on in the garden. The garage door is now firmly closed, you'll be glad to know! Instead, their nest-building bird has been disappearing into the Ivy that climbs all over their fence, bearing lots of moss, leaves and other bits and pieces.

    In a stroke of genius, Mary placed the ill-fated nest (which she'd kept in the garage) down on the ground close to the new site.

    Soon, it was a delight to see their little construction-worker come and take material from it. You can see the effect below.

    The Robin has now removed all the soft hair and feathers that had been used to line the cup of last year's nest. Mary has saved the Robin a bit of collecting effort, and a nice bit of recycling has come out of a sad situation.

    After Mary took the second photo, she and Chris went away for the weekend and by the time they came back, every scrap of nesting material had been taken.

    We wish you many happy Easter eggs as a result, Mary!