songbirds

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.

Ambelopoulia threatens migratory songbird populations

Ambelopoulia is a traditional Cypriot delicacy that has caused a lot of controversy in the past 42 years. Ambelopoulia is a dish that consists of several songbirds that have been grilled, boiled or pickled. The original dish used Sylvia atricapilla, more commonly known as blackcaps. Eventually the dish was changed to include many more species of […]

via The Ambelopoulia Controversy — Chris Blogs about Stuff

How to look after songbirds this spring

We all enjoy seeing songbird visitors, old and new, taking advantage of the bird feeders and spending time in our gardens. Feeding the birds is a hugely popular national pastime in the UK. Nearly half of us feed the birds in our gardens, providing an amazing 50,000 tonnes of supplementary food every year! This is a fantastic way to help songbird populations, especially over the colder winter weather, when foraging for food is more difficult. It’s also been shown that supplementary feeding over the winter can boost songbird breeding success in the spring.

With the warmer weather now appearing, spring is definitely in the air. Over the breeding season, birds are rushing around making nests and finding natural foods (mainly insects) to feed their young. These adults will use the food you give them to fuel themselves during this hectic time. When their young have fledged, the adults will teach their offspring where to source food, and this will include your garden feeders.

But what should we feed them?

Seed Mixes

There are lots of different types of seeds on the market and the ones you choose will determine which birds you will attract. Buying a small bird mixture or high protein mixture will attract the most variety into the garden to begin with. Seed feeders can be hung from bird tables and can be a safer way for small birds to eat; small birds can hang better than larger birds, and there are fewer threats from cats at this type of feeder. Hanging seed feeders attract birds like tits and finches, whereas ground mesh feeders will suit birds like robins, blackbirds and thrushes. Songbirds love sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Hang the heads up by the storks, and birds will enjoy pecking at the ripe seeds. Birds also appreciate thistle heads and lavender seeds, so don’t dead-head your lavender too soon!

Coal Tit

Nyger Seeds

These seeds are oil-rich and high in protein and little birds struggle to resist them! If you serve this it will attract species like goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.

Dried Mealworms / Insects

A great natural source of energy, fat and protein which the birds love. They need to be placed on a flat feeder and during the breeding season it’s best to use mini or mashed mealworms, as whole dried ones can choke fledglings. Loved by many species such as blackbirds, tits, thrushes, wrens, dunnocks and especially robins.  Why not also soak them in water as another way to keep the birds hydrated!

Peanuts

All garden birds like peanuts as they are high in energy and fat, but try not to feed them in the summer as they can get stuck in fledgling and juveniles’ throats. Place in a specialist peanut feeder or on a flat feeder, but make sure you remove all packaging, including any plastic mesh bags as these can harm birds and other wildlife.

Suet treats and fat balls

Suet treats are especially good in winter as they are rich in fat and protein. There are many different styles which can be hung on their own or in feeders, and are great all year round. These are easy to make yourself and the birds adore them.

breakfast
This little blue tit was photographed enjoying fat balls in Somerset, England on a winter’s morning.

Fruit

Chop up apples, pears etc. and either hang in wire feeders, on flat feeders or special spike–feeders to hold the fruit while the birds feed off it. Dried fruit is a favourite too, especially with blackbirds and robins. Seeds from melon also go down well!

Kitchen Waste

Bacon rind (chopped up small), over-ripe fruit and even leftovers from meals can supplement garden birds. But NO BREAD – birds need food with high–nutritional benefit, and bread is bulky, fills up their bellies with ‘empty’ food and doesn’t give them nearly as much nutrition as they need in their busy lives.

Click here to download the SongBird Survival Feed the Birds Guide, to find out which birds like what food, and how they like to eat them.

Top Hygiene Tip:

To stop diseases such as salmonella and trichomoniasis spreading,  clean your bird table/feeders and bird bath on a regular basis. Remove old or stale food and clean your feeders and table with hot soapy water and a brush. Allow to dry before re-filling.


Where to site feeders and bird baths

Site your feeders and bird bath away from walls and fences where cats could pounce from. If cats do come into your garden then consider using a bird table rather than ground feeders. Feeders with guards on will also help protect songbirds when they are feeding. If possible, site feeders or bird baths near to hedges, trees and other large dense shrubs. This will allow small birds to quickly get away to safety if a predator is hunting them. Growing prickly shrubs and trees will provide nesting sites, as well as safety for birds; they make predators move more slowly around the extra obstacles in your garden when hunting, giving small birds time to get away. SongBird Survival’s latest research gives some more handy hints for feeding birds during the breeding season to protect them from predation.

1-Front Page Chaffinch

Nest Boxes

Bird species need different sorts of nest sites as they build different types of nests. For example, blackbirds and thrushes build ‘open-cup’ nests in hedges and shrubs. Finches build small dense cocoon nests higher up in trees. Tits prefer a hole in a tree; or, due to many of us tidying away so many rotten trees, will readily take to a nest box as an alternative. Robins and wrens are very adaptable and will often make their nests very close to your home or shed, often inside! Sparrows, house martins and swifts will all take to nest boxes, and in our modern houses there is often no other option for them.

To prevent predation of nest boxes, we highly recommend using a protective nest box plates to deter squirrels, larger birds and other predators. These stainless steel plates protect the entrance hole to the nest box and prevent larger birds and predators from enlarging the entrance hole to gain access.

Big Birds

Pigeons are numerous and don’t need as much special care as smaller birds. If you want to make sure your high-nutrition food is being fed only to songbirds, use hanging feeders and small bird tables that only allow enough room for the littler birds to get in. Songbirds are messy eaters and there will be plenty for the pigeons and other wildlife to clean up from the ground below!

Grsquirrel croppedey Squirrels

To help stop grey squirrels from stealing your peanuts, chop up fresh salad peppers and mix these with your bird food.  Squirrels don’t like any part of the capsicum pepper and even growing the plant can deter them.

They also dislike peppermint, so dab some peppermint oil on the things that squirrels nibble on, and remember to reapply after rain.

Grey squirrels not only steal your bird food, but destroy habitat and will eat eggs, nestlings, fledglings and even adult birds when they can. They will often rob birds’ nests, break into them or knock them down to eat what is inside.

 

 

We hope these tips will help you get the most out of feeding the birds in your garden this spring. 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!