research

Cats should be kept inside says charity while pleading for ‘daily wildlife slaughter’ to end

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.

Source: Cats should be kept inside says charity while pleading for ‘daily wildlife slaughter’ to end

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.

Road verges are a last hope for UK’s rarest plants, says Plantlife

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.

Birds hit by cars have smaller brains

New research has uncovered an interesting finding about the consequences of birds’ learnt behaviour in relation to traffic.

When driving along a fast road, you may have seen some species of bird happily wandering the hard-shoulder, apparently oblivious to the traffic zooming past them. Some species, such as magpies, seem especially expert at hopping out of the way to avoid on-coming cars.

Previous studies have actually shown that birds are able to adapt to the direction of traffic and lane use, and this apparently results in reduced risks of fatal traffic accidents.

A new study by Anders Pape Møller and Johannes Erritzøe analysed the link between birds killed by traffic and their relative brain mass. Looking at 3521 birds from 251 species that were brought to a taxidermist, scientists found that birds that were killed in traffic had relatively smaller brains, while there was no similar difference for liver mass, heart mass or lung mass.

These findings suggest that birds actually learn the behaviour of car drivers, and that they use their brains to adjust behaviour to try and avoid mortality caused by rapidly and predictably moving objects. 

More about this fascinating topic can be read in the full research article here.

 

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.

Scientists Track, For the First Time, One of the Rarest Songbirds on Its Yearlong Migration | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

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
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

The journey of the Kirtland’s warbler is discovered thanks to a combination of the latest tiny technology and centuries-old solar location methods

Source: Scientists Track, For the First Time, One of the Rarest Songbirds on Its Yearlong Migration | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

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!

Corvid Population Ecology Research Update

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.

magpie

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.

6 - Predated nest

A predated nest. Photo: Lucy Capstick

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.

Urban ecology: noise and light pollution affect how robins sing

A researcher at the University of Southampton has found that robins in urban environments are affected by noise and light pollution.

The study by Frances Mullany used a fake robins to measure how the quality of robin territory was affected by its proximity to a lit path and a road.

Robins hold territories all year round, individually over winter, and as a pair during the breeding season. If you’ve ever strayed too close to a male robin’s territory, you may have encountered their aggression as these feisty little characters defend their patch. Male birds in particular are aggressive and very vocal in defending good quality territory.

Robin Feb 16

By setting up fake birds in different robin territories throughout an urban park, Frances was able to record how aggressively each of the birds in the park that responded, sang and displayed in response.

The study found that the robins that lived closer to lit paths and noisy roads displayed less aggressively than those who were further away.

Although urban pollution didn’t stop robins from singing, it certainly had a marked effect on the birds’ behaviour. The results of this study lay the foundation for further research into why these territories are less well defended, and has interesting implications for urban planning and design in the future.