Blackbirds build 10 nests in Cumbria

A single pair of blackbirds builds ten nests along ladder in Cumbria

Up and down the country birds have been racing to find a mate and get on the property ladder ahead of the breeding season

And as a couple found in their back garden, one busy pair of blackbirds have taken it a step further with a real-life game of ‘birds and ladders’.

They say practice makes perfect but one pair of hard-working blackbirds took it to a new level by building 10 nests side by side giving themselves plenty of options.

“I looked out my window one morning it was a busy pair of blackbird that caught my eye.


Over a number of days they were furiously building something and it wasn’t until we started our garden spring clean that the true extent of their efforts was revealed.”

This unusual behaviour comes as blackbirds, along with a few other species, fail to cope with the problem caused by the ladder, which forms identical holes, each one equally suitable for nesting.

They are unable to choose between one hole and another, so in a state of confusion, will start to build nests in each.  Along with blackbirds, this behaviour has also been spotted in other garden favourites such as…..

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Rare American Heron creates major interest by keen birdwatchers

Visit by a rare green heron creates a major attraction in Llanmill, Pembrokeshire

Local MP for Pembrokeshire Simon Hart and his wife Abi opened their garden to over 500 visitors across 8 days at the end of April this year after a rare American Green Heron chose their garden in Wales as a stopover!

Mr Hart said, “Living in west Wales I’m used to the odd visitor. Eight years ago a purple heron looked in for a week, an Osprey once spent an afternoon annoying the rest of the bird population and, if the weather is right, the variety of wildfowl can be outstanding.

Green heron - photo from Abi Hart

But as I trundled around the garden on the back of the mower the one thing I wasn’t expecting was a green heron. Partly because I didn’t know there was such a thing, and partly because this is a west Wales garden, not a Costa Rican swamp!”

After consulting his bird identification book and drawing a blank he enlisted the help of local friends who were keen birdwatchers and able to identify the rare breed.

Green heron tweet - Simon Hart

Mr Hart continued, “When something quite so out of place appears it’s time to take action. The curious bird took to the air just a few feet away from the mower, flew across the lake and then sat in a reed bed on the opposite bank. Bigger than a moorhen, smaller than most herons and waders and a beautiful chestnut red and slate grey-green. I knew there was only one thing to do. Get off the mower, try and get a photo and dig out the bird book. There was one flaw. My excellent Collins bird guide only covers the UK and Europe so once we had ruled out a Little Bittern (the only thing even faintly resembling our new addition) I knew it was a job for Kevin and his son, Toby Phelps (tobysbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk), near neighbours, friends and most importantly the best bird people I know. Fortunately, the heron had posed cooperatively in the April sun and we had a couple of decent pics. Within seconds of the email, Kevin was on the phone and I knew he was excited. In the meantime, Toby, already south of Bristol (2 hours away) en route to Cornwall, was exiting the southbound M5 and returning home”

Green heron twitchers - photo from Abi Hart

Realising the excitement the heron was creating, the Harts decided to open their garden for visiting birdwatchers hoping to catch a glimpse of the eye-catching creature, and it proved highly popular, with over 500 visitors from all over the UK across 8 days.

Said Mr Hart, “We are lucky here that our garden is predominantly quite wild, with two ponds we put in some years back with habitat in mind. So for visiting birdwatchers, (and the first arrived from Loch Lomond at 5.45am on the first day), it’s a case of setting up on the lawn outside the kitchen window. And, thank goodness, “our” bird has performed, seemingly unconcerned by the attention, devouring several rudd and generally giving the enthusiasts who have come here a memorable entry in their albums.”

SongBird Survival is incredibly grateful for the £300 donation raised by the Hart’s who placed collection boxes in their garden for the duration of the heron’s stay.

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Sometimes we must kill animals to be kind

If the island of South Georgia can eradicate rats we should be able to do the same with grey squirrels and urban foxes

On the shores of the Serpentine a tragedy unfolded. A mother duck was shepherding her six newly hatched chicks to the water, while being dive-bombed by crows. Five, four, three, two — despite her frantic clucks and flaps, the predators struck repeatedly. Bystanders hurried to help, but were too late. With her sole surviving duckling only inches from safety, a corvid swooped one more time and we watched helplessly as it carried its prey to its doom, tiny webbed feet flapping, until we lost sight of it high in the trees.

It is a more cheerful story in South Georgia, where an unchecked rat population (introduced through human carelessness) was overwhelming the albatrosses, petrels, prions, pipits and other rare and beautiful species. These ground-nesting birds — there are no trees at those latitudes — are defenceless against these predators, which feast on their eggs and eat the chicks alive. This week a conservation charity reported that a five-year extermination programme had been successful: not a single rodent remains on the island and the bird populations are already rebounding.

Swift in air brick-800

Swift brick by Action for Swifts

The question is not whether we intervene, but how. Scaring away crows from baby ducklings is stressful and inefficient, as I found out last year. Other protection methods work better. Some involve no pain at all: we can build houses with “swift bricks” for crevice-nesting birds. We can make our gardens hedgehog-friendly too — except in the Outer Hebrides, that is, where our snuffly pals are a menace. Since 2002, conservationists have removed some 1,600 hedgehogs from the Scottish isles to protect ground-nesting birds there.

These dilemmas and paradoxes are unavoidable. We successfully exterminated feral cats from St Helena, with the result that rat numbers have mushroomed. We may have to deal with them next. Sometimes our thinking is deeply muddled: probably the biggest threat to our beloved songbirds is the equally beloved domestic cat. Badgers have no natural predators, but we prefer to see them die invisibly of hunger and disease rather than accept any need to cull them.

Кошка домашняя, Felis catus, cat

Cat research

But we also need a clearer ethical framework. One pillar of this should be to undo or mitigate the damage we have done already. New Zealand is taking a particularly robust stance on invasive species in order to preserve its unique flightless birds. The government there aims to eradicate every rat, stoat, possum and feral cat by 2050. That goes beyond biodiversity: some species are so destructive that they have to be wiped out, not just managed.

The reality is that, as the dominant species on the planet, we are in effect its zoo-keepers. Sitting back and doing nothing is as reckless as opening all the cages and letting the lions eat everything else and then each other, before starving to death. We can run the zoo well or badly, but the responsibility is ours.

Excerpts above taken from the full article by Edward Lucas published today in the Times – read the full article here

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British public subsidising destructive furry invaders

Nature lovers who put food out for wild birds are inadvertently helping non-native grey squirrels thrive, a new study has shown

Scientists at the University of Reading measured for the first time how grey squirrels compete with garden birds for nuts and seeds provided by the public. They found that, at the sites monitored, almost half of the time feeders were used, it was by squirrels rather than birds.

With 43% of UK households collectively spending over £210m per year on feeding birds*, the findings means that tens of millions of pounds is potentially being spent subsidising what is considered to be an invasive species, which can potentially harm birds.


Professor Mark Fellowes, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, said: “Grey squirrels can polarise opinions. They are viewed as charismatic and cheeky, and loved by many, but at the same time they are the leading threat to our native red squirrels, can be a major pest in orchards and forestry, and they also raid bird nests.

“By using uncaged feeders, much of the food we provide may be going to unintended recipients. It’s not only that birds lose out on a source of food, but we are supporting a species that can harm the ones we intend to help.”

Grey squirrels were introduced to England from America in the 19th century and spread rapidly through the country. There are now thought to be 2.5 million in Britain and they are officially classified as a problem invasive alien species not only due to their contribution to the displacement of Britain’s native red squirrels, – largely through competition for food and space and transmission of squirrelpox – but also because of the significant damage they inflict on hardwood forestry plantations. There is also evidence that they can have an adverse impact on woodland nesting birds.

In the study, published in Landscape and Urban Planning, automated cameras were used to record more than 33,000 visits to bird feeders in suburban gardens in Reading by birds and squirrels. This provided unprecedented insight into what happens to the food put out for birds in gardens. The researchers found that when a squirrel was on a feeder no birds would come near. In gardens where squirrels dominated, feeders in gardens were visited less often by birds even when squirrels were not present.

Lead researcher Dr Hugh Hanmer, now of the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “Squirrels don’t just simply push birds off feeders, those birds change their behaviour. We found that some species even change the timing of their visits when grey squirrels are common.” The team found that cages around feeders were effective in stopping squirrels from stealing food intended for birds.

Dr Becky Thomas, of Royal Holloway University of London, said: “The work shows that putting up caged feeders does work to an extent. In our study, cages around seed feeders reduced grey squirrel visits to almost none, and cages halved visits to peanut feeders. If you want to ensure that the food you put out goes to your garden birds, then this work shows that there are some simple solutions.”

Robert Middleditch, Chairman of SongBird Survival, said that the Charity was delighted to have commissioned this project and very grateful to Gillian Duckworth for funding it through the first Keith Duckworth scholarship.

He said: “Previous research has highlighted the adverse impact grey squirrels can have on songbirds, through predation of their eggs and young and exclusion from garden bird feeders. What was not known was the likely scale of supplementary food being taken by squirrels, resulting in significant costs being borne by bird lovers who enjoy feeding song birds in their gardens. These findings greatly add to our understanding of the significant economic and environmental damage that non-native grey squirrels cause. The good news is that by using simple solutions we can help make sure that the food goes to our garden birds, and may even help us save money in the process.”

*The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, the leading trade body for the UK pet food industry, estimates that £210m per year is spent by the UK public on feeding birds. This is the equivalent of 150,000 tonnes. https://www.pfma.org.uk/_assets/docs/annual-reports/PFMA-Pet-Data-Report-2018.pdf. In Reading, around 55% of households feed birds: Orros, M.E. & Fellowes, M.D.E. 2015 Wild bird feeding in a large UK urban area: intensity, economics and individuals supported. Acta Ornithologica 50, 53-68. https://doi.org/10.3161/00016454AO2015.50.1.006

Full citation: Hanmer, H.J., Thomas, R.L. & Fellowes, M.D.E. (2018). ‘Introduced grey squirrels subvert supplementary feeding of suburban wild birds’. Landscape and Urban Planning. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.04.004

via SongBird Survival | British public subsidising destructive furry invaders

IDCD 2018 loud and live

International Dawn Chorus Day 2018 was loud, live and tremendous with people all around the globe taking part and enjoying the sounds of day breaking on their patch

Blackbird - Dawn Chorus

With a live broadcast from around the globe on http://soundtent.org/ as well as numerous events to attend in person we were well served to enjoy every scrap of today’s glorious morning since the weather has treated us so well

Still trying to shift my cold, I opted to enjoy the morning from my own garden and I sat, cuppa in hand and revelled in the sounds of the birds and other creatures waking to herald the day.  The sun crept over the roof tops and blazed a trail of light and sound across the landscape.

My pictures were pretty poor – the birds kept themselves hidden away – but you can hear one of the sounds I recorded here:

What sounds and pictures did you capture?  Why not share them with us on Facebook & Twitter?

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British Snow Bunting population assessed in Scotland

Globally, Snow Bunting has a circumpolar distribution, breeding commonly from Scandinavia to Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

1 January Snow Bunting

Weighing no more than a golf ball, it is a familiar sight around Britain’s coasts in the winter months, but a small breeding population can also be found on the highest peaks of Scotland.

During June 2011, a team of scientists and volunteers led by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage scaled mountains in the Cairngorms and the Highlands, such as Ben Nevis and Ben Alder, to listen out for singing males.

The survey involved searching 58 sites, covering an impressive 12,000 ha – the equivalent of more than 14,800 football pitches – and the results, published this month in the journal Bird Study, estimate Britain’s breeding population of Snow Buntings at 60 pairs.

Read the full story here


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BFBC results 2018

February saw the fifth annual Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, and sponsored by BASF, with record numbers of participants and species recorded

Over 1000 farmers took part and recorded 121 species across over 950,000 acres. That’s more farmers than in any previous year.

The BFBC was launched in 2014 to highlight the positive work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping to reverse the decline in farmland bird numbers. The count offers a simple means of recording the effect of any conservation work currently being instigated by farmers and gamekeepers on their land, such as supplementary feeding birds through winter or growing crops specifically to provide seed for birds.

What did farmers see?

The most commonly seen species were blackbirds and woodpigeons, seen by over 80% of our participants. Robins, blue tits, and pheasants were seen by over 70% of the farmers.

Skylark May 2015

At the other end of the scale, we were delighted to see that a total of 25 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern were recorded, with 5 appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list: fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most abundant of these were the first two, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.

The five most abundant birds seen were starlings, woodpigeons, fieldfares, rooks and chaffinches. A total of 99,712 were found, making up nearly 50% of the………

Read the full details on the GWCT website and find out more about the GWCT’s work

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Mystery of how birds navigate solved

The mystery behind how birds navigate might finally be solved


It’s not the iron in their beaks providing a magnetic compass, but a newly discovered protein in their eyes that lets them “see” Earth’s magnetic fields

These findings come courtesy of two new papers – one studying robins, the other zebra finches.

The zebra finch study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, and the robin study was published in Current Biology.

bird vision

This is how a bird might see magnetic fields. (Theoretical and Computational Biophysics/UofI)

So what does a bird actually see? Well, we can’t ever know what the world looks like through another species’ eyes, but we can take a very strong guess.

According to researchers at the Theoretical and Computational Biophysics group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose researcher Klaus Schulten first predicted magnetoreceptive cryptochromes in 1978, they could provide a magnetic field “filter” over the bird’s field of view – like in the picture above.

Read the full story here

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Celebrating nightingales

The incredible song of Common Nightingale on a spring evening is a real treat. Once you know where to find them and get the timing just right, you’ll be rewarded with a performance few other songbirds can match.

This superstar of the British summer has an illustrious repertoire that includes at least 250 different phrases: a rich, fluid and melodic warble interspersed with croaking, grunting and high pitched singular notes.

This lyrical phrasing is now becoming harder to hear as the species’ population is crashing: 90 per cent of the UK’s nightingales have vanished in the past 50 years, and their range has contracted, confining them to the south and east.


Loss of scrubby habitat is clearly a significant factor in its decline – in fact the most important UK site for the species is once again threatened by development. Lodge Hill in Medway, Kent, has for many years been a real stronghold for the species. Its patches of ancient woodland, grassland and extensive bushes form the perfect habitat for nightingales, and up to 85 singing males have been recorded here. However, the site has been earmarked for development and for more than four years there has been a campaign to save Lodge Hill for its nightingales – and the nation.

This year the National Nightingale Festival is back with a series of fantastic walks and performances across the country, a timely celebration of a Red-listed migrant which is at serious risk of being lost from Britain.

Read the rest of the story at BirdGuides

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