WHAT YOU CAN DO… FOR BIRDS

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.

FEED THE BIRDS

Goldfinch couple on yellow feeder, Starling fledgie in Bempton 29

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 have someone else willing to feed them.

FOOD

WHAT TO FEED THE BIRDS

SUNFLOWER SEEDS

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.

Best Squirrel eating sunflwr seeds P1020725

NEW METAL MESH FEEDERAnother seed feeder, made of green metal mesh, caters for both birds and Squirrels.

A handful of black sunflower seeds on the ground will occupy 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.

PEANUTS

Squirrels will, we find, concentrate on unshelled monkey nuts if they are available. Time will be spent carrying peanuts about the garden, looking for places to dig. As this is all part of the garden entertainment, we leave some bare earth for them, while covering ground round plants in the flower beds with wildflowers or stones.

This terracotta feeder is from the RSPB. Filled with mixed seed, it was ignored by small birds. But when filled with monkey nuts, it was emptied daily. Then one day we found it lying on the ground, its tough string apparently chewed away. The string was replaced with wire, but the feeder was again found prostrate on the ground, & cracked. We got a replacement. It happened again, the wire detached. We are now thinking what to do next.

 

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 & claws would make you wonder why nets were ever thought suitable.

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 & cannot escape, becoming a meal yourself? Suetballs from The RSPB & Garden Bird & Wildlife Co do not come in mesh nets, to avoid birds becoming trapped.

Whenever 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.

        Look for other companies offering their suetballs free of nets.

 Starlings waiting for breakfast, July 31st 2015

 

 

 

DRIED MEALWORMS, BREAD & CHEESE

Each morning our garden birds get grated cheese and dampened, crumbled seedy bread. They wait in other gardens, on roofs, in trees or shrubbery, till food has been deployed, feeders topped up & the birdbath cleaned & 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.

 

 

Parents' birdfeeder

TWO FEEDERS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

Having several feeders helps 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 & attached where needed.

 

GARDEN BIRD & WILDLIFE CO

garden-bird-logoFounded in 1994 in the small town of Wem, Shropshire, this specialist supplier of wild bird-related products 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.

FEEDERS

BEMPTON BIRDFEEDER

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.

Bempton House with Pyracantha berries Bempton feeder, yellow finch feeder, Pyracantha blossom spring 2014

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.

Squirrels have enjoyed clinging to the mesh, upside down, & eating seeds. Whenever the roof has been pulled up, we assume it was the claws of squirrels & not the beaks of birds that did it…

YELLOW GOLDFINCH FEEDER

Goldfinch in Damson

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.

Four sparrows on suet feeder clarified

SUETBALL FEEDER

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 an entire suetball for a few 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.

Blue Tit on long feeder, suet logRow 1 No 3 Squirrel upside down on feeder

MEALWORM FEEDER

STARLING FLEDGIES

This, the newest feeder, was immediately found acceptable by the Starlings. As many as four of them at a time can be pecking 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.

TREAT BLOCK FEEDER

Starlings on suet feeders, late 2012

Great tit on treat block

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.

HALF COCONUT

Starling, coconut halfStarling on coconut

Starling fledgies on coconut shell

When half coconuts are propped at an angle, many birds can reach the 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.

BIRDBATH

BIRDBATH, blue eggBirdbath photo from Garden Bird Supplies Feeding Guide

STAR BIRDBATH SPRAY C

 

Starling birdbath crop

This is the much-visited Birdbath. Wildlife, from Moths & Bumblebees to Birds & Squirrels, comes to drink from it. Your providing fresh water daily is invaluable to these creatures.

The birdbath’s weatherproof verdigris finish is washable, & scrubbed each day when its water is changed. This is a favourite gathering place for Starlings, who like to splash about in it. One day Scurvy, living in the garden flat with the best view of the garden’s entertainment, said that he counted

nine Starlings round the edge, and one break-dancing in the middle!
 

 
 

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).

Gdn Bird Robin, Simon King Dec 12New Gdn Bird feeder guide

Orders can be placed online from The Garden Bird website :
www.gardenbird.co.uk

Garden Bird & Wildlife Co, Unit 9 Enterprise Court, Lancashire Enterprise Business Park, Leyland, PR26 6TZ

  

CHANGES AFFECTING THE BIRDS

 

CHANGES TO THE HUMAN PROVIDING FOOD FOR THE BIRDS

Birds come to rely on a feeding station, once it has been set up. Is there a Designated Birdfeeder Replenisher, in case the person feeding the birds

* Becomes ill, is hospitalised

* Goes on holiday

* Moves house

* Passes away

* After my mother died, my dad moved in with my brother and his family. He drove back to his own house every few days to make sure the bird’s feeder was topped up. No-one else we knew locally fed the birds – there were always dozens at the feeder.
It was a cold, snowy November when my father died. Many of those birds would also have died, because of the time of year, the conditions and no-one refilling the only birdfeeder they had come to rely on.

 

CHANGES TO THE HOUSE OR GARDEN

* House makeover

Hoping to improve the house to attract buyers, the owner is advised to finish all those DIY jobs that need doing. The front of the house must be given ‘kerb appeal’, so those nesting places for sparrows, such as leaky guttering and dodgy brickwork, are put right.

* Garden makeover

Has the homeowner any idea of wildlife nesting in that mature tree, that unfashionable evergreen? Do they care? Garden makeover programmes encouraged us to stamp our own personalities on the garden. This may involve ripping out all vegetation ‘to let the light flood in’. Concrete, decking, glass blocks and lighting could be part of the new look. ‘Our personalities’ may mean doing away with places where an ecosystem had developed, with life forms so small we would not have noticed.

 

Wasteland after Sanei Hopkins architects sprayed what had been green, a former small woodland, with toxic chemicals

* Property Developers Looking for a ‘Change of Use’ for Land

* Even an empty plot overgrown with scrub and self-seeded trees – looking unkempt and unacceptable to us – can be being used by wildlife. Insects can be living there.

Insects, their eggs & grubs – are food for birds. When the property developer flattens the area, a vast food harvest is taken away – like demolishing a high street, a supermarket for birds & wildlife.

 

CHANGES TO THE LOCAL PREDATORS

Row 2 No 2 Banksy cat on wall of Highbury shop

Grim reaper cat mural, Highbury shop, Gillespie Road

* The new cat on the patch – young, quick, good at sudden moves, at chasing, climbing & catching birds… One single cat, skilled at what it does, can make a difference to the numbers of birds who live or die in an area, who can set up a family.

 

CHANGES TO BUILDINGS – HOUSES, COUNCIL ESTATES 

* Scaffolding and netting are put up for a repairs regime – sparrows cannot get to nesting vents.

* Mature trees & shrubbery are cut down or, in a front or back garden, covered with builders’ materials. If birds had relied on those trees & shrubbery at nesting time, there will be no place for them on their familiar patch. Whether the neighbourhood has a place that would be a good substitute – out of reach of cats, within reach of food (seeds, insects) may determine whether or not those birds can raise a family.

IF SEVERAL OF THESE CHANGES HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME, IN A NEIGHBOURHOOD THAT ONCE HAD NESTING BIRDS IN IT, IS IT ANY WONDER THAT NUMBERS HAVE FALLEN?

 

THE ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF BIRDS

RSPB LOGO white

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 many other creatures who have a place in our shared environment.

Visitors to the Highbury Wildlife Garden are Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Wrens, Starlings & Sparrows – garden birds. We have Crows, Wood Pigeons & Magpies in the neighbourhood, & are overflown by Swifts, Gulls, Ducks & other birds higher up. We do what we can for 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.

A HANDFUL OF RSPB CAMPAIGNS

Big Garden Birdwatch 2016BIG 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/org.uk/birdwatch

 

RSPB VOTE FOR BOB

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:

  https://www.voteforbob.co.uk

HOPE FARM

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  – the grubbing up of hedgerows & use of pesticides – would be, decades later.

Hope Farm by Andy Hay

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.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/forprofessionals/farming/hopefarm/the_farm.aspx

SAVING THE HOUSE SPARROW

London House Sparrow Parks Project, Islington planting and sign 999House 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.

HOUSE SPARROW PLANTING two, Laycock StLondon House Sparrow Project planting, Two 997

HOUSE SPARROW PLANTING One, Laycock st

 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:

http://www.friendsoftootingcommon.org.uk/LondonHouseSparrowParksProject.pdf

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 facing extinction. Thousands of these seabirds follow fishing trawlers each year. 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 & 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.

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.

JOIN THE RSPB

 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 & worldwide, is crucial. By becoming a member of the RSPB you can support its many strategies & campaigns to help birds everywhere & give nature a home.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/

RSPB UK Headquarters, The Lodge, Potton Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL.

SHELTER

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.

PROBLEM: You want to put up a birdhouse – where can you site it?

In a line of terraced houses, the best position for siting a birdhouse – to avoid cooking nestlings in strong sunshine or forcing them to endure wind & rain – may be on the front of your house. This may be unsuitable, if on a busy city street.

The back of the house may be unsuitable as well. Here, Wood Pigeons and Squirrels liked sitting on birdhouses hung on the  back wall of the house. It is very offputting, if you are the parent bird flying back with food for your fledgelings, to find a creature many times the size of yourself sitting so close to your front door, even if it means you no harm.

Male Robins made nests in our birdhouses over the years… they showed female robins   round, but all courtship failed & no Robin families formed. We have hosted one family of Wrens, & one of Blackbirds, but there have been no repeat nests.

It could have been the Crows – very large birds – living so close & overlooking our garden – that made the difference.

Solution?

Perhaps one neighbour could contribute a birdhouse, & another with the best available spot could offer a place for it.

PROBLEM: A predator who may appear & eat birds’ eggs once  they are laid, or eat the fledgelings when they hatch.

Size matters.  We have Crows who often nest a few houses away, overlooking all the gardens. Magpies sometimes come round, but the Crows usually see them off. In winter, when food (grated cheese, seedy bread, rice) is put out on the extension roof to help the birds survive the worst of the weather, smaller birds feed happily until someone larger – a Herring Gull, Magpie, or Crow – comes along. When these large birds put in an appearance, our smaller garden birds make a hasty exit.

Sergei's houseSome years ago, a nestbox placed over the doorway of the garden flat was ignored by the smaller birds. The male robins didn’t consider it worth showing any of the females.

One day a Magpie landed on the tiled roof nearby. It ambled down to the guttering, hopped onto the nestbox roof, stretched its long neck down & poked a very pointy beak far into the entrance hole.

Had there been eggs or fledgelings inside, the Magpie could have stabbed its beak into them easily. The nestbox was moved straightaway, obviously sited in the wrong place.

Solution?

Can the birdhouse be easily reached by predators? Can cats manage to climb up to it? Place any nestbox, as best you can, out of reach of predators.

swiftbricks-rspb

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, & his reasons for wanting to save the House Sparrow.

http://www.aarondunkerton.com/bird-nesting-brick/

fleming_box_bird-brick

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.

www.birdbrickhouses.co.uk

Bird Brick Houses Ltd., The Old Parlour, Wilbees Farm, Arlington Nr Polegate, East Sussex BN26 6RU

THE BRITISH TRUST FOR ORNITHOLOGY

bto_logo

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:

http://www.bto.org