January, 2017

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!
  • Let's get sticky!

    Logs tend to get all the headlines when it comes to giving nature a home with deadwood, but I’m here to shout out for the humble stick. On its own, it may not be much, but with a load of its friends, it can make a great habitat.

    What a stick pile can do is provide a tangled maze into which cats, Magpies and other large predators can’t go. That makes it a perfect hideaway for birds such as Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks, and it is a great place for them to build their nests when safe sites can be in such short supply in gardens.

    It is the kind of feature you can build up bit by bit, month by month, whenever you do a bit of pruning or tidying up around the garden. Given that it is February now, it will soon be last-chance saloon for getting any hedges and bushes pruned before the breeding season. It then saves you having to burn it, shred it or put it in the green bin. And by giving your stick pile its own place in the garden, you can keep the garden neat and good for wildlife at the same time.

    In my garden, I tuck my stick pile away in a corner, not because the stick pile is ugly, but it just makes it even more of a hidden sanctuary. I have Field Voles nesting underneath it, and I like to think it is a safe refuge for everything from Frogs to beetles.

    I also tuck Wren nestboxes behind it to give them even more options.

    You might even like to grow something that will clamber over it, like Old Man’s Beard.

    Altogether, it's one new home for wildlife that could otherwise have gone up in smoke!

    PS Don't forget Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!

  • Getting ready for Big Garden Birdwatch: The appeal of apples

    Every day I have up to fifteen Blackbirds on my lawn, and for one reason only - to peck at my Bramleys.

    I stored a load of windfalls in the autumn, wrapping them individually in newspaper. Now, every day, five more apples get put out, and down come the Blackbirds.

    It takes quite a stab, a stretch and jab, to actually skewer out bits of the soft flesh, but it is clearly very acceptable fare.

    I admit that I would quite like one morning to find that a Fieldfare or Redwing has joined the party, but for now I'll be content with my simple, monochrome Blackbirds. It will take really hard weather to push those Scandianavian thrushes down to the coast here, but for many of you around the country, they are likely to be your reward for the price of a few old apples.

    I say monochrome, but it's amazing how speckled some of the females are, almost thrush-like. And all of them with the fresh gloss of apple juice on their beaks!

    Bring on the Birdwatch! (Remember you've got three days this year - 28-30 January).

  • Look into my eyes...

    Following my 'Sparrowhawk Snap' posting last week, I realised that thing I hadn't shown you was a rear view of a Sparrowhawk.

    Come to think about it, it's not very often that you see photos of wildlife - or humans for that matter - taken from behind. We always want to be able to see into the eyes to feel that we've had a proper encounter, that we've indeed been face to face.

    But I did want to show you a Sparrowhawk Derriere (in my pond, of course!), because what many of the guide books don't mention is that many have two white blobs on the back of the head.

    Now look at the photo with your eyes squinted. Can you see what it looks like? Eyes. Bright eyes!

    The thinking is that, because Sparrowhawks are quite small birds of prey, when they are sat in a bush or on the ground, they are often mobbed by angry birds such as Jays and Magpies. Those attackers, if they get the chance, will go for the Sparrowhawk's eyes, hitting them where they are most vulnerable. A Sparrowhawk with damaged eyes is doomed.

    So it makes sense for the Sparrowhawk to have false eyes on the back of its head. That way, anything behind the Sparrowhawk thinks it is already looking at them, and any birds that dare to strike may attack the wrong 'eyes'.

    You see it in butterflies, too - false eyes that may intially scare an attacker, but if that doesn't work and your attacker goes for the strike, you just lose a bit of wing instread, such as this Speckled Wood with clear bird-peck damage. The 'eyes' even have a 'catch light' in them, like real eyes do.

    But I have to say this is my favourite - a photo I took a few years ago of the wing of an Emperor Moth. Or is it a snake's head, complete with nostril...? Amazing!