February saw the fourth annual Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – see the results here: 2017 BFBC Results – Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
February saw the fourth annual Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – see the results here: 2017 BFBC Results – Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
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
8. Great tit
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.
Protecting the environment can be as easy as telling your kids to go outdoors and play, according to a new study. Research by Catherine Broom, assist. prof. in the Faculty of Education at UBC Okanagan, shows that 87 per cent of study respondents who played outside as children expressed a continued love of nature as young adults.
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:
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.
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.
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.
An amazing feat for a tiny creature!
Weighing the same as a small carrot, every year, this rare North American songbird travels nearly 4,000 miles round trip, across mountain ranges, the body of a continent, the Gulf Stream and open ocean. Most of this journey has been a mystery, until now.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/scientists-track-first-time-one-rarest-songbirds-its-yearlong-migration-180962390/#jGmhL26dY4bCE5Bh.99
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The journey of the Kirtland’s warbler is discovered thanks to a combination of the latest tiny technology and centuries-old solar location methods
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 […]
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?
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!
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Interesting findings from songbird research in the USA
By: Susan Bird
Here’s something to think about whenever you pass by a new housing development. Researchers now say that as we continue to add to burgeoning suburban sprawl, we’re cheating songbirds out of the prime years of their reproductive lives.
University of Washington (UW) researchers released a study in December 2016 that paints a sad picture for certain types of songbirds. It seems that as we keep building houses and other infrastructure, we often disrupt their lives in ways they have a tough time recovering from.
The research team spent a decade following the movements and breeding habits of six types of birds who live in areas east of Seattle. Between 2000 and 2010, some of these sites transitioned from forested areas to new suburban developments. What happened to the hundreds of birds tracked in this study is a cautionary tale for us all.
Songbirds tend to fall into…
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An update from Lucy Capstick, PhD researcher at the University of Exeter, on SBS’s corvid population ecology research study.
My PhD project (funded jointly by SongBird Survival and the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), investigating how variation in the ecology and behaviour of Magpies affects their impact on songbirds, is nearing completion. The final season of field work has just finished and over autumn and winter of this year the collected data will be analysed and consolidated.
This project has examined whether individual Magpies differ in the extent to which they predate songbird nests, particularly exploring potential differences between territorial and non-territorial birds. To this end the Magpie and songbird populations of a small mixed farm in Warwickshire have been observed and monitored through spring and summer for the past three years. The continuous use of the same site, a farm with management typical of much of the UK’s rural landscape, has allowed the development of a more detailed picture of the population ecology of both the Magpies and the songbirds. It has also made it possible to investigate variation between years, for example whether differences in weather conditions influence songbird nest success or Magpie food preferences.
In 2016, as in previous years, songbird nests were located in hedgerows on the field site and monitored in order to assess Magpie impact on the songbird population. However, experience gained in the past two years meant that in 2016 a larger sample of approximately 80 nests was found, and in 50 of these, the outcome (success/failure) was known. The nests found largely belonged to more common species, almost three quarters of nests were Blackbird, Dunnock and Wren, however Goldfinch, Yellowhammer and Whitethroat nests were also located. As well as finding individual nests the territories of songbirds were also identified by mapping singing males early in the season. This information will be related to our knowledge of the Magpie population to see if, for example, the presence of a Magpie territory affects songbird territory location and nest success.
Our understanding of the Magpie population has been developed using a number of techniques over the course of the project. In 2016, Magpies were trapped across the site using Larsen traps for the third consecutive year. Trapped birds were colour ringed so they were individually identifiable. In 2015 the rings were more successfully attached than in 2014, so there was less overwinter loss between 2015 and 2016 than the previous year. Of the 75 occasions Magpies were trapped in 2016, new birds were caught only 10 times, while on the other 65 occasions previously ringed birds were re-trapped. The trapping process was slightly less successful than in 2015 and camera observations of the traps suggested there were a number of occasions of previously trapped individuals returning to traps and, perhaps unsurprisingly, avoiding tripping the mechanism again. Nonetheless, this trapping programme alongside direct observation of individuals and early season identification of magpie nest sites meant it was possible to work out where active Magpie nests were.
As well as looking at how the Magpie population as a whole may relate to songbird nest success, this project also aimed to investigate how individual Magpies differ in their impact on songbirds, for example, are some individuals more likely to predate nests in their territories than others? This year variation in individual Magpie defence behaviour was investigated, largely through work carried out by a Master’s student from Newcastle University (Rebecca Liberty). A dummy Magpie was placed near active nests and the response of the territory holder, which ranged from mobbing the dummy to ignoring it, was recorded. This variation in response, alongside other information such as differences in trappability, may indicate differences in aggression between individuals which could be linked to predation behaviour.
Another way of examining possible difference in an individual’s predation behaviour is to use artificial nests. This is a recognised technique used to gain an understanding of the pattern of nest predation and the identity of nest predators without disturbing natural nests. Both old songbird nests and manmade nests were baited with real and wax-filled quail’s eggs and monitored by trail cameras (motion activated cameras). A predator attacking a wax egg will leave an imprint, such as a beak or bite mark, and can therefore be identified. The nests were set out in transects in areas with occupied Magpie nests and in areas where it was believed Magpie presence was reduced. This method was piloted in 2015 and used more extensively this year. Over the course of the spring and summer over 400 artificial nests were placed across the field site. It will therefore be possible to look at the impact of Magpie presence on predation, but also at differences between the territories of individual Magpies, and the effect of time of year, for example, is predation higher when Magpies have young in the nest? Preliminary analysis suggests Magpie predation is higher in certain locations and trail camera pictures also identified specific ringed Magpies predating multiple nests. This may indicate that certain individuals predate more.
Over the three years of this PhD project a range of field data, including that detailed above, has been collected. The task now is to look at the information about Magpie population ecology, habitat use and territorial behaviour in combination with that about the songbird breeding population to see if and how they interact. The project will collate information about Magpie distribution, movement and breeding at a wider landscape scale. At a finer scale individual differences between Magpies in terms of territory location and habitat, and behaviour will be examined. Predation of both real songbird nests and artificial nests will be looked at with relation to the Magpie population. As well as this field data, research of the scientific literature will help to build up a more general understanding of corvid predation of songbird nests, as it could be that some species are more vulnerable to predation by corvids or that their populations are less able to recover from breeding season losses. In general this type of research into the population ecology of predators and their prey species, and how they interact, may suggest a way to manage the UK’s countryside to benefit the prey species, such as threatened songbirds.