One important thing you can do is to help the birds. Many species are in decline. By looking out for birds where you live, providing them with food or shelter, you can make a difference to their lives.
If you want to help birds by offering them food, can you carry on doing so? Each day, at about the same time? Birds will come to depend on you as a provider. Your going away for a holiday will mean local birds who rely on your food station will waste energy flying in to find nothing to eat, unless you can find someone to feed them in your place.
Each morning our garden birds get some grated cheese and dampened, crumbled seedy bread. They wait in other gardens, on roofs, trees or in the shrubbery, till food has been deployed, feeders topped up and the birdbath cleaned and filled with fresh water. The human provider then retires to a corner of the garden to watch as the customers fly in.
Dried mealworms are great favourites here. Some days Starlings will be waiting AT the feeders for the morning mealworm delivery.
TWO FEEDERS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
Having several feeders helps to avoid the squabbles that were the norm at my parents’ birdfeeder, the only one in the neighbourhood.
There were no places for birds to perch other than on the feeder or in the fir trees. I now put out food for birds year-round in this built-up bit of London. And there are plenty of nearby perches for birds queueing up, waiting for access to the food. Some are branches on our trees, others are branches that have been saved and attached where needed.
Highbury’s seed-eating birds have shown their preference for these seeds. Black seeds still in their shells are mixed with ready shelled ‘sunflower hearts’. Squirrels also love them; one tubular feeder now has a metal ‘squirrel guardian’ round it, through which only the little birds can fit. Squirrels had previously been hanging upside down on this feeder, monopolizing it as they munched their way through the sunflower seeds. Another seed feeder, made of green metal mesh, caters for both birds and Squirrels.
A handful of black sunflower seeds on the ground occupies a Squirrel for some time. Seeds are skillfully broken into and a carpet of shells left behind. If a Woodpigeon finds them first, the entire seed is swallowed whole.
Squirrels will, we find, concentrate on peanuts if they are available. Time will be spent chasing each other & finding places for peanut burial. As this is all part of our garden entertainment, we leave places for Squirrels to dig while protecting containers and special plants in the flower beds. We keep the squirrel feeder out of sight of the birds, to avoid them choking on peanuts. A metal peanut feeder hangs elsewhere for Blue Tits, Great Tits and Starlings.
SUETBALLS : NETS OR NO NETS
For years suetballs have come packaged in netting. Because suetballs in nets can be hung anywhere – on a nail in a wall, say – the implied advantage is that there is no need to buy a feeder. But birds have been trapped by this netting – a look at the design of their feet and claws would make you wonder why nets were thought suitable in the first place.
In our garden, where cats still manage to get in, cover is important. But what good is the meal if you are caught in netting and cannot escape to cover, becoming a meal yourself? Suetballs from The RSPB and Garden Bird & Wildlife Co do not come in mesh nets, to avoid birds becoming trapped. Look for other companies offering their suetballs free of nets.
If you buy suetballs with nets for your suetball feeder, you must cut each one out of the net before putting it into the feeder. You are left with a tangled mess – do you recycle it? Is it biodegradable? Will it go to landfill if you put it in your bin? Why should you have to deal with the problem at all? Haven’t you got enough packaging in your life already? Best to have no nets in the first place.
This major UK charity aims to make a difference to the welfare of birds, here & abroad. These days it also works to Give Nature a Home, supporting those many other creatures who have a place in our shared environment.
Primary customers at the Highbury Wildlife Garden are Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Wrens, Starlings & Sparrows – garden birds. We have Crows, Wood Pigeons & Magpies in the neighbourhood, and are overflown by Swifts, Gulls, Ducks & other birds higher up. We do what we can for those birds who visit us, & we support the RSPB.
Some familiar British birds are migrants who spend part of each year in other countries. Hunting & changes to the climate & their living places abroad have left many birds facing danger & death once they leave the UK. The RSPB campaigns abroad with partner organisations to improve the welfare of migratory birds.
There are RSPB shops around the country; none are in London, but some of their birdfood can be found in the pet aisle of the larger supermarkets.
BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH
The Big Garden Birdwatch, an important nationwide survey of UK birds, has been ongoing for over 35 years. Millions of people have counted the birds in their park or garden for one hour on a single day in winter, made notes of what they saw, and sent their results, online or by post, to The RSPB. Information gathered has shown how well, or how badly, our birds are faring. These details are then used in many RSPB campaigns and projects.
RSPB VOTE FOR BOB
The RSPB works with others to solve environmental problems. Joining with The Wildlife Trusts in the VOTE FOR BOB Campaign in 2014/2015, it aimed to push NATURE higher up the political agenda in May’s General Election. Bob, its charismatic candidate, urged politicians to commit to a NATURE AND WELLBEING BILL to stop the losses to nature & work towards a recovery for birds & other wildlife.
‘I may be a small red squirrel, but I have big ambitions. Once you get past my bushy tail, stylish ear tufts and well-groomed whiskers, there’s not much difference between you and me. I’ve decided I can no longer sit here in my tree gnawing on nuts while the woodlands, meadows and wildlife around me are disappearing. I want my young – and yours – to inherit a world where they can thrive…’
Bob had his own internet pages & was on Facebook & Twitter. His campaign for a vote for nature received 120,819 votes, with backing from 1,098 Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. The exhausted candidate can be seen on his website with the results:
Numbers of Skylark, Corncrake, Lapwing & other UK farmland birds have plummeted over the years. No-one could have foreseen, during the war’s Dig for Victory Campaign, what the unintended consequences of change to farming practice would be, decades later. The grubbing up of hedgerows & use of pesticides have been part of the problem.
The Hope Farm project is the RSPB’s attempt to reverse wildlife losses with a return to more traditional farming methods. In April 2000 the charity bought a farm in Cambridge. Cereals had been grown on its 181 hectares (450 acres) using heavy machinery, pesticides and fertilizer. Changing those farming techniques has helped wildlife, while producing food cost-effectively. New habitats such as wildflower field margins, unharvested crops for wild birds & skylark plots have helped birds, bees, butterflies & other wildlife to flourish on Hope Farm.
Breeding populations of 17 intensively monitored bird species were found to have increased by 190% as of December 2014. Insect visitors to the farm are counted – Bumblebee numbers go to Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Butterfly numbers logged on three butterfly transects go to Butterfly Conservation Trust.
SAVING THE HOUSE SPARROW
House Sparrow numbers have plunged over the years, down by 68% between 1994 and 2009. At an Islington Ecology Centre talk in 2005, a speaker from THE RSPB said he would never have believed that this once ubiquitous bird could have suffered such losses. Research has since found that, especially in urban areas, a lack of insects & invertebrates in the first days of life led to poor development & starvation for many baby Sparrows.
The London Borough of Islington & other Boroughs joined with The RSPB for the London House Sparrow Parks Project. In this three-year search for the best wildflowers to increase insect numbers, seed mixes were planted on 25 sites in 19 London parks. The merits of long grass, wildflower seed areas & wildflower meadows for House Sparrows and other birds were compared.
Photos from test area on Laycock Street Open Space, off Upper Street, Islington.
For a good write-up of the scheme and its results go to:
LIMESTONE PAVEMENTS IN CUMBRIA
The RSPB‘s campaign to conserve limestone pavements in Cumbria was supported by the late BBC Gardener’s World presenter, Geoff Hamilton. He showed us how to make imitation York stone, a good match for the real thing that avoids destroying a precious UK habitat in the name of gardening.
RSPB STAMP SCHEME TO SAVE ENDANGERED ALBATROSSES
In this campaign the RSPB works to help wildlife at risk elsewhere on the planet.
15 of 22 Albatross species are now threatened with extinction. Each year thousands of these seabirds are drawn to fishing trawlers, mistaking bait for food. They are caught on hooks meant for fish & dragged underwater. Working with local fishermen, The Albatross Task Force buys & distributes bird scaring devices & special weights to sink the bait quickly. Albatross deaths in one area alone, South Africa, are down by 99%.
The Albatross project is funded by the collection of used postage stamps. They are valuable in large quantities when converted to cash. £50 worth of stamp sales will buy a tori-line (bird scaring device) for a longline fishing vessel. In 2012/13 used stamp donations helped the RSPB raise £17,000 for this scheme.
RSPB works with a stamp dealer who resells loose used stamps, paying the charity a portion of the proceeds. UK stamps are worth up to £6 per kg; foreign stamps raise £15 per kg. Cut or tear off the corner of the envelope leaving no more than 1/4 of an inch (1/2 cm) of paper border around the stamp. Sort stamps into UK & foreign; send them (without correspondence) to the RSPB stamp warehouse at:
R.S.P.B., P.o. Box 6198, Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 9XT.
Stamp albums, first day covers and rare stamps (pre 1970): Send these to the Community Fundraising Department at the Lodge. The RSPB will send them to a specialist auction house to achieve the best price. If you wish, send them your details & they can let you know how much your stamps have raised.
You may wish to support only your garden birds, not Albatrosses in the South Atlantic, birds of prey, or habitat in another country. But it is all connected. Habitat for birds, here and worldwide, is crucial. By becoming a member of the RSPB you can support its many strategies and campaigns to help birds everywhere and give nature a home.
RSPB UK Headquarters, The Lodge, Potton Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL.
Offering shelter to birds can determine whether they can successfully raise a family or not. A situation such as ours in Highbury – terraced housing in a built-up area – can provide particular problems. If you know some of your neighbours, or have a community group to turn to, you could manage to solve some of the problems we have encountered.
Kingston University graduate Aaron Dunkerton designed The Swift Brick, a unit of 5 clamp-fired bricks that could be placed under the eaves of a house being renovated to provide a nesting place for swifts. Along with The Sparrow Brick, meant to give shelter to our fast-disappearing House Sparrows, Aaron‘s design was shortlisted for the Design Council Future Pioneer Award 2013. The bricks were cast with the help of MBH, Freshfield Lane, W. Sussex.
On Aaron’s webpage are his Bird Brick designs, contact details, and his reasons for wanting to save the House Sparrow.
Bird Brick Houses Ltd. make these hollow brick designs that can be used as houses for birds. With habitat loss being a major cause of the drop in bird numbers, this is one innovative way to provide more housing for more birds.
Bird Bricks Houses are made for a range of the UK’s small to medium-sized birds, from Blue Tits to Starlings to Swallows. The website has a table of entrance sizes for each species. The company’s core market is bulk manufacturing for new housing estates & industrial units, but they will supply Bird Brick Houses for retro-fitting into an existing structure, individually if required.
‘ Our brick matching service includes the collection of bricks from the site, bricks which are then used to construct the Bird Brick Houses specified. The finished boxes are returned ready to fit. We also hold a supply of some commonly used bricks.’ Contact them for details.
Bird Brick Houses Ltd., The Old Parlour, Wilbees Farm, Arlington Nr Polegate, East Sussex BN26 6RU
The BTO is an independent charity that does important research into biodiversity, especially as it concerns birds. Its scientists rely on the help of members and volunteers.
The BTO has a free information pack with advice on making or buying a nest box, choosing the best site for it, reducing the risk from predators, and cleaning and maintenance. The pack is from National Nest Box Week: last year the public was asked to put up a nest box from 14-21 February and monitor the results, but nest boxes can be put up any time of year.
See their website for details:
Along with the RSPB, this mail-order firm has provided birdfood, birdhouses, feeders and birdfeeding accessories for our garden. It began as a family business called Garden Bird Supplies and has moved several times, relocating its operations and expanding its focus from garden birds to other wildlife.
Birds visiting our garden have tested many feeders over the years. One of the newest is the Bempton Birdfeeder, with its copper roof that weathers into verdigris. Blackbirds and Starlings come to the Bempton House for dried mealworms. Squirrels find it difficult to perch on the copper roof, and are uninterested in mealworms anyway.
METAL MESH FEEDER
Sparrows, Blue Tits and Great Tits visit this feeder, a great favourite which dispenses premium shelled sunflower hearts. It hangs by a chain; the top lifts off for filling and cleaning, and the green metal mesh allows air to reach any dampness in the birdfood, drying it out to keep mildew from forming.
We call it the Squirrel Feeder : Squirrels can reach seeds in the ports as well as those falling into the tray. They leap onto the feeder, fitting their claws into the mesh and wrapping themselves round the metal tube. They then twirl round and round as the feeder spins on its chain – head, tail, head, tail… Access to some food gives Squirrels less time to create mayhem elsewhere, we find.
Some Squirrels still take out their excess energy on the garden, as shown by Squirrel damage to the Damson branch at left. New squirrel kittens had just come into the garden when it happened.
YELLOW GOLDFINCH FEEDER
The Goldfinch Flocker, a tube with small nicks taken out of it, is designed to cater for Goldfinch beaks. The finches sit sedately at this feeder, picking seeds from the nicks in the tube. Goldfinch are well camouflaged; many of us had no idea there were any in the neighbourhood until we installed this feeder and found them perched on it.
These feeders are designed for clingers and hangers-on; in our garden that includes Sparrows, Starlings, Blue Tits and Squirrels, who like to hang upside down to feed. Squirrels tend to demolish all the suetballs for one or two large seeds or nuts worth burying. This leaves the feeders empty for everyone else.
The Hornsey Pet and Garden Shop in Crouch End has a solution: suet rolls. They may be available elsewhere as well. Our squirrels don’t fancy them, but the starlings and sparrows do.
This, the newest feeder, was immediately found acceptable by the Starlings. As many as four of them at a time can be gobbling up Mealworms from this feeder as it bounces about.
If one Starling is feeling dominant, it will behave like a football keeper in goal – making itself big – opening its wings and pecking all others away. Dried Mealworms seem to get everyone excited.
TREAT BLOCK FEEDER
These treat block feeders are favourites with Sparrows and other small birds. Starlings will sit on them and hang from them to feed as well.
The small square shape is more of a problem for the Squirrels, who prefer feeding while hanging upside down on the long tubular feeders.
This half coconut is propped at an angle so that many birds can reach its suet filling, not only the perching birds.
A half coconut, hung out one morning, was an empty shell the next day, with no peck marks visible. We thought a squirrel might have got to grips with the new item in the garden, but it was more likely a fox’s paw that prised the filling out of the coconut.
This is the much-visited Birdbath. Wildlife, from Moths and Bumblebees to Birds and Squirrels, comes to drink from it. Its weatherproof verdigris finish is washable and scrubbed every day when its water is changed. It is a favourite gathering place for Sparrows and Starlings, who like to splash about in it. One day Scurvy, living in the garden flat with the best view of the garden entertainment, said that he counted
‘nine Starlings round the edge, and one break-dancing in the middle! ‘
Founded in 1994 in the small country town of Wem in Shropshire, this specialist supplier of wild bird-related products by mail order delivers birdfood, birdhouses, feeders & other accessories to your door. These items are included in their free feeding guide, along with season-related articles on birds, competitions & more.
The ‘No Signature Required’ contract with the couriers means you don’t need to be in when your order arrives. You can also ask for your order to be delivered to another UK address (such as your workplace).
Orders can be placed online from The Garden Bird website :
Garden Bird & Wildlife Co, Unit 9 Enterprise Court, Lancashire Enterprise Business Park, Leyland, PR26 6TZ