songbirds

Their Future is Our Future – World Migratory Bird Day 2017 

Today is World Migratory Bird Day – an international celebration of the ecological importance of birds.

Watch the official World Migratory Bird Day trailer here:

Their future is our future!

To learn more about the fantastic collaborations which are happening to help conserve our migratory birds, visit the World Migratory Bird Day website.

Woods alive to the sound and throb of spring: Country diary 100 years ago | Environment | The Guardian

 

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 1 May 1917, this little insight into the sounds of the countryside a century ago makes for an enchanting read.

But there’s a more sombre angle to take note of as well: with the numbers of songbirds declining in the UK, our dawn chorus is getting harder and harder to hear. The sounds of spring today are much less rich than in our parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

SongBird Survival aims to save the dawn chorus for tomorrow by researching the reasons for songbird decline in the UK, and promoting solutions to restore their numbers.

With International Dawn Chorus Day taking place this weekend, Sunday 7th May, now is a fantastic time to get outdoors and hear this wonderful natural spectacle for yourself.

Source: Woods alive to the sound and throb of spring: Country diary 100 years ago | Environment | The Guardian

 

Gardens for wildlife

Well done B&Q! As the UK’s leading garden centre retailer, they’ve just commissioned a report into the importance of gardens for wildlife, with practical ideas on how to help.

It includes a top 10 tips for beginner gardeners, including creating shelter, ponds, and making your cat safe and seen to reduce the threat to wildlife:

B&Q

The report shows that 67% of people are concerned about British wildlife, and with 24 million gardens in the UK, there’s plenty of scope for people to get involved. Having a small garden doesn’t stop you from making a difference for wildlife. Even small spaces are valuable for songbirds and other wildlife. SongBird Survival have some great tips for small spaces, as well as lots of information on planting for birds.

With wildlife conservation news often focused on the doom and gloom, B&Q’s report shows that there’s a lot to be hopeful about in terms of UK wildlife.

To find out more about how you can help wildlife in your garden, read the full B&Q Nature of Gardens report here.

Woodland birds threatened by high deer numbers

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.

This research was published in the Journal of Applied EcologyMore about this fascinating paper can be seen here.

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

Sunshine releases all the sounds of spring | Environment | The Guardian

Great article in the Guardian about the Swedish art of gökotta. With International Dawn Chorus Day next month, there’s plenty to get up early for at this time of year!

Swedes call it ‘early cuckoo morning’ – the act of getting up just to enjoy the first birdsong.

Read more here: Source – Sunshine releases all the sounds of spring | Environment | The Guardian

Big Garden Birdwatch – the results are in

At the end of January every year, citizen scientists across the UK take part in the the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Almost half a million people participated in this year’s event, spending an hour in their garden or local park recording the birds that they saw. All the data was submitted to the RSPB, and after some serious number crunching, the results are now out.

The top 10 birds this year are:

1. House sparrow
2. Starling
3. Blackbird
4. Bluetit
5. Woodpigeon
6. Goldfinch
7. Robin
8. Great tit
9. Chaffinch
10. Long tailed tit

Alongside these, high numbers of migratory birds such as waxwings and fieldfares were also reported. Weather conditions in Scandinavia resulted in the berry crop failing this year, which is thought to have caused these species to flock to the UK in search of food.

But the top 10 list above doesn’t tell the whole story; although starlings were the second most commonly reported bird this year, starling populations have actually decreased by a worrying 79% since 1979.

Both chaffinch and greenfinch populations are also down by well over 50% since the 1970s. Tits haven’t fared so well either, with less blue tits, great tits and coal tits recorded than last year.

Citizen science projects such as this give a valuable insight into the health of our wildlife in the UK. They show that our much loved songbirds are in trouble.

SongBird Survival is an independent bird charity working to understand the reasons behind songbird declines in the UK. We raise funds to commission targeted research, and aim to identify solutions to restore songbird numbers, saving the dawn chorus for tomorrow.

To learn more about our work and how you can help, visit our website.

Gardening for wildlife

Spring has well and truly sprung, and the keen gardeners among you will have been beavering away in your garden for weeks already. If you’re less keen, or completely new to gardening, here are some seasonal tips to get you started with gardening for wildlife.

Most birds rely on a variety of foods such as insects, slugs, snails, worms, pollen, fruit, buds and seeds. Having a range of these available should attract a variety of birds to your garden. Creating diverse habitats and food sources will also attract a wide range of insects and small mammals.

Turfed or paved, big or small, whatever garden you have, there are easy steps to make it more wildlife-friendly:

Anything that attracts insects will attract birds

Pollen-rich flowers look pretty and offer plenty of food for insects. Planted in borders or in pots, they’re a great way to attract invertebrates to your patch. Try these plants for early-summer blooms:bumblebee-400

Aquilegia                             
Astilbe
Campanula
Comfrey
Delphinium
Everlasting sweet pea
Fennel
Foxglove
Hardy geranium
Potentilla
Snapdragon
Stachys
Teasel
Thyme
Verbascum

If you have more space for planting, many shrubs like Buddleia and Forsythia and fruiting trees like Cherry and Apple attract bees, butterflies and other insects, and birds like to eat the buds as well.

Aim for a variety of heights and shapes

Different heights of plant will attract different types of birds – many species prefer to nest at particular heights.

Dense ground-cover will protect small animals and birds from predators – try Fuchsia, Berberis, Pyracantha & perennials (spiky plants will deter predators!).

Tall hedges often have many species of bird nesting at the same time and provide habitat for a wide range of other creatures – why not plant a natural hedge including Hornbeam, Field Maple, Blackthorn, Wild Cherry and Dog Rose?

For small gardens where space is at a premium, planting climbers is a great way to attract insects and provide extra height and levels of habitat; try Jasmine, Ivy, Clematis and Honeysuckle. Some trees will also do well in containers, or build a pergola and grow Roses or Passionflowers.

Bushy shrubs and trees will provide extra nesting sites as well as escape routes – Amelanchia and Hazel are good examples.

Stonechat + caterpillar 2


Don’t be too tidy!

Lawns are a surprising source of food for ground feeders like thrushes and blackbirds, where they can hunt for worms; and woodpeckers also hunt out ants. Try not to mow your lawn too often – by allowing wild flowers to grow, this can make a huge difference to your wildlife.

Rotting logs and crumbling walls not only encourage insects, but also mosses and lichens – all excellent food sources for birds.

Is your garden paved? Do you have a patio or yard? If not, consider adding some large stones to your garden which birds can use to help break into snail shells.

If you have small pond, perhaps consider adding a boggy area to create more habitat.

Ferneries can also combine many of the requirements needed for insects, snails, slugs, frogs, hedgehogs and therefore birds, as well as a solution to that dark dank corner of the garden where nothing else will grow!

Happy gardening! Remember to let us know who comes to visit this year – we’d love to hear from you and see your photos on our Facebook page.

Regional dialects in songbirds

A fascinating citizen science project has successfully mapped the distribution of dialects in yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) in both New Zealand and the UK.

Yellowhammers, like us, have regional dialects, with differences in their song depending on the region that they live. A familiar farmland bird in the UK, the species was introduced to New Zealand over 100 years ago, and this has provided researchers with a unique opportunity to investigate two completely isolated populations.

The Yellowhammer Dialects project used citizen science volunteers to record yellowhammer song in the field. This allowed the project to access lots of data from across a very large area, which was then compared with historic recordings from archives. All this information was then used to accurately map the composition and distribution of different dialects in the two countries.

Researchers found an interesting difference in dialect between the populations of yellowhammers, with New Zealand yellowhammers sing nearly twice as many different dialects than yellowhammers in the UK.

They explain this result by suggesting that New Zealand yellowhammers have retained song structures which were originally from the UK, but have subsequently been lost in the mother country, perhaps due to the widespread decline in yellowhammers in the UK.

The yellowhammer dialect system may be the avian equivalent of a phenomenon already noted in human languages, in which ancient words or structures are retained in expatriate communities.

A fascinating finding, and one which will hopefully be complemented by further results in the near future; after the success of this project, the researchers have decided to host sister projects in both Switzerland and Poland.

The full research paper can be found here.