New study into shared parental workload shows cooperation makes a huge difference to nestling survival
Parent birds timed their arrival and departure at the nest over 67% of the time
This produced a reduction in nest disturbance by 36%
This is the first time a study into parental behaviour during nesting has been carried out and tested the hypothesis that mates synchronize their behaviours to decrease total activity at the nest, which is known to affect predation rate in birds.
It examined if parents synchronise their feeding trips more when nestlings are at the poikilothermic (http://bit.ly/2J2IXMx) stage, and they may be more vulnerable to nest predation due to their inability to escape and survive outside the nest without parental brooding.
It also investigated the alternation of feeding trips by parents and showed that parents synchronise the majority of their feeding trips during the whole nestling period, and the level of parental synchrony is higher before nestlings develop endothermy (http://bit.ly/2x26bNF).
The study showed the alternation of male and female feeding trips was much higher than would be expected by chance and was positively related to parental synchrony.
It demonstrated that synchronisation of parental feeding trips significantly decreased parental activity at the nest, and nest survival time increased with the synchrony of parental feeding trips.
The Earl of Caithness discusses SongBird Survival research in the Lords Grand Committee
Debate on the welfare of animals (10th May 2018)
“I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward this debate. I declare my interest as a former cat and dog owner. Promoting and improving the welfare of domestic animals has a simple solution—and the solution is us human beings. We class ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but the evidence does not prove that. If one studies the PAW report of 2017—a very good document indeed—one will find that a significant minority of animal owners are thoughtless, irresponsible and inconsiderate.
People are thoughtless, in that 98% of cat owners have no idea of the costs of keeping a cat before they have one, which should be a primary consideration. Nearly one-fifth of dogs in the UK are left for five hours or more in a typical weekday; 93,000 dogs are never walked at all. They are irresponsible, in that animals are not receiving primary vaccination courses; 36% of cats are not receiving them, up from 28% in 2011. Some 25% of dogs are not receiving them, up from 18% in 2011, and 55% of rabbits are not receiving them.
People are inconsiderate to their animals—in their diet, as my noble friend mentioned, and in their lack of knowledge of animal laws. Some 15% of owners have not registered their pets with a vet. They are inconsiderate to their neighbours, because poor care of an animal leads to behaviour problems. Some 66% of dog owners would like to change their animal’s behaviour, but they had better change their behaviour first before they can change their animal’s behaviour. They are also inconsiderate to other animals: free-ranging and feral cats kill about 55 million wild birds and a further 220 million small mammals, reptiles and amphibians each year. Cat predation is a national problem. It is estimated that UK cats kill songbirds at 10 times the rate that illegal hunters in the Mediterranean kill migratory species. Researchers at the Universities of Reading and Exeter have reported on the widespread ignorance of that fact by many cat owners—and it is difficult for charities such as the RSPB, because they rely on legacies from cat owners. However, SongBird Survival is working with the University of Exeter and cat owners to get better information and to minimise the adverse effect of pet cats on native wildlife while enhancing cat welfare. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to help that project—and if they are not helping, why not?
I have some quick questions for my noble friend. What steps are the Government taking to minimise the adverse effect of cat owners’ pets on native wildlife? Will they press the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to include provisions in planning policy so that, as urban areas grow, a buffer zone of 400 metres is imposed around any new development to help to mitigate the adverse ecological consequences of cat predation, where species of conservation concern nest? Will my noble friend give domestic cats the same legal status as dogs?”
Warmer springs create a mismatch where hungry chicks hatch too late to feast on abundant caterpillars, new research shows
With continued spring warming expected due to climate change, scientists say hatching of forest birds will be increasingly mismatched with peaks in caterpillar numbers.
The researchers, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the universities of Sheffield, Exeter, and Edinburgh, used data collected across the UK – largely by citizen scientists – to study spring emergence of oak tree leaves and caterpillars, and timing of nesting by three bird species: blue tits, great tits and pied flycatchers.
Dr Karl Evans, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: “Our work suggests that as springs warm in the future, less food is likely to be available for the chicks of insectivorous (insect eating) woodland birds, unless evolution changes their timing of breeding.”
Our PhD student Hugh has successfully published another paper from his Gardens for Birds project.
In this study, Hugh wanted to investigate how the local environment helps determine the materials used in nest construction, how this differs among related species using similar nest sites, or if materials used directly or indirectly influence the numbers of offspring successfully reared.
He found that use of anthropogenic material affects songbird nest arthropod community structure. Specifically, more man-made material used in tit nests resulted in more fleas in the nests.
Clearly, urbanisation may have wide ranging and little studied effects on our urban songbird populations. Hugh’s work identified that nest boxes are ecological communities in their own right; they may be more complex than they first appear, and worthy of consideration for further investigation.
Read the entire paper here.
The SongBird Survival summer newsletter is now available to read online.
Featuring the latest news from our research projects, bird news and details of our summer show season, you can browse the full publication on our website.
Although broadleaved woodland, an important habitat for many birds, is increasing in the UK, songbird populations are still in decline. An interesting new review of previous research, combined with a field study by the Forestry Commission, has provided some possible solutions to this quandary.
Researchers studied a representative sample of broadland lowland woodlands in England and Wales, assessing the effect of woodland management (silvicultural intervention and control of deer browsing) on vegetation structure, and the relationships between vegetation structure and woodland birds.
Different bird species have different habitat and resource requirements, which researchers identified from a review of existing literature. For example, while hawfinches mainly forage in woodland canopy, dunnocks forage on the ground and willow tits are reliant on the shrub layer for their foraging requirements. Wood warblers prefer mature woodland, whereas song thrush require woodland in a younger stage of development.
As well as summarising resource requirements for 17 target bird species, the study classified different woodland stand structures from A to F, which related to their value to birds:
A – dense low shrub layer
B – dense high shrub layer
C – open understory
D – open canopy
E – closed canopy, few strata
F – closed canopy, multiple strata
The most frequently occurring structures found currently in lowland broadleaved woodlands in England and Wales were stand type E, which are of least value to woodland birds.
The crucial finding from this research is that a very high proportion of lowland broadleaved woodland in England and Wales is of fairly uniform structure. This lack of structural heterogeneity means that our woodlands are missing the mosaic of habitats which different bird species rely on.
Simply increasing the UK’s area of broadleaved woodland is not enough to help songbird populations recover: these woodlands need appropriate, targeted management to deliver a mixture of different stand structures at the landscape scale.
This research has identified a novel approach, providing woodland owners and managers with practical management advice to increase the biodiversity value of their woodland. Creating a more diverse structure through targeted woodland management practices is essential to provide suitable habitat and resources, and to enable woodland bird populations to thrive.
Read the full research paper here.
In partnership with the University of Exeter, we aim to find out how we can improve the health and welfare of cats and wildlife. Find out more below:
With bird nesting season in full swing – this is worth bearing in mind to give new fledglings a head start this Spring!
- keep cats indoors at dusk and dawn when wildlife is active
- consider attaching a bell to your cat’s collar so small birds can hear your cat is in the area
- position feeders away from walls and fences, to prevent cats from pouncing onto feeding birds
A charity has urged pet owners to keep their cats inside, while posting a picture of the ‘slaughter’ wreaked by felines on local wildlife.
Next time you’re making a car journey, take a moment to appreciate the humble roadside verge, as you might find something surprising.
Far from being lifeless stretches of faded grass, roadside verges are incredibly valuable for biodiversity. Studies by Plantlife have found that road verges in the UK represent a last refuge for some of our rarest species of plant. However, mowing and management of verges presents a threat to these endangered plants. Plantlife have called for verges to be managed for wildlife to aid conservation efforts.
Plantlife found an incredible 724 species growing on road verges, with some species being found nowhere else. The top 10 threatened verge species are as follows:
- Fen ragwort
- Spiked rampion
- Crested cow-wheat
- Tower mustard
- Velvet Lady’s-mantle
- Yarrow broomrape
- Sulphur clover
- Wood calamint
- Welsh groundsel
- Wood bitter-vetch
Some of these species are now restricted to a single ditch in the wild.
In 2015, SongBird Survival supporter Eddie Bullimore lobbied Norfolk County Council to reduce verge cuts on rural roads to conserve the county’s wildlife, including songbirds.
Verge management such as flail cutting means that haws (hawthorn fruit) and rose hips are lost, and thistles are often cut before they can seed. It also endangers ground-nesting birds such as skylark. Thistle seeds are a favourite food source for goldfinch, whils
t fieldfares eat haws, and field mice, an important food source for barn owls, like to feast on rose hips.
Reducing the frequency of cuts means that plant species, and the other wildlife which relies on them such as insects, birds and small mammals, are able to thrive.
To find out more about good management of verges, download Plantlife’s Good Verge Guide here.
New research from a team at the University of Nottingham has found that high populations of deer in UK woodlands are having a negative impact on woodland birds.
Dr Markus Eichhorn studied the factors behind the decline in species such as nightingale, marsh tit, willow tit and lesser-spotted woodpecker.
Breeding populations of these birds have suffered severe declines over the last 25 years, whilst the number of deer has doubled. The absence of large predators, such as wolf, lynx and bear, and reduction in hunting, are some of the reasons for deer population expansion.
Although deer do play a part in the health of woodland ecosystems, over-browsing can also have a negative effect. The researchers used laser technology to build 3D maps of woodlands. Comparing 40 woodland areas in England, the team found in areas of dense deer populations there was 68% less foliage near the ground compared with areas with fewer deer.
Dr Eichhorn suggests that if we want to encourage more woodland birds, then we need to take action to restore the woodland structures that they require. Replacing farmed venison with wild meat is one way that deer populations could be controlled.
Citation: Eichhorn, M. P., Ryding, J., Smith, M. J., Gill, R. M. A., Siriwardena, G. M. and Fuller, R. J. (2017), Effects of deer on woodland structure revealed through terrestrial laser scanning. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12902