February

January 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

While you consider those approaching warm summer days and holidays spare a thought right now or perhaps this coming weekend for your garden birds. Many of them are already considering spring, nests and mates.

Now is the time to get at least one nest box up for them because they are already staking out and defending their territory, maybe in your garden.  Now I don’t suggest you put a huge wine barrel up like this one a kestrel pair took a fancy to and successfully raised a family, just a modest tit box will do.

You do get something in return you know. Not only do they bring your garden to life with their antics but they help rid you of all kinds of pests such as caterpillars and aphids.  What is a garden without birds?

 

GIVE THEM A HOME BUT DON'T MAKE IT EASY FOR PREDATORS TO GET AT THEM.

It is so important for them and is so easy for us to do. Here are some simple dos and don’ts. Amazingly birds seem to know that a nest box facing south will overheat during the summer months, cooking their chicks to death so, make sure the entrance hole faces as near as possible, north. It doesn’t ‘have’ to be hidden among the vegetation but it does help. Look at it and consider this, can the cats get at it?

Just to show how fickle or sometimes foolish birds can be I placed a nest box with an open front, for robins, in some ivy and a blackbird decided to attempt nesting on the roof! It is of course a sloping roof and made of plastic (slippy).  Time and again I watched with amusement as this silly critter carefully tried to lay a few bits of grass there while trying not to slide right off the roof, hilarious. It carried on like this for about five days and the result was a few wisps of grass on the top and a mini haystack on the ground below.

The following winter I nailed a lath on the roof just in case the same thing happened again. It did, this time she finished the ‘roof’ nest, laid her eggs and raised four chicks.

PREDATORS.

Love em or loathe em cats are a real problem. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate cats, I have a lot of admiration for them in the right place. Take the Scottish wild cat, what a fantastic creature that is, totally independent, hunts mammals and birds. The only difference between the Scottish wild cat and our domestic cats is size, colour and habitat, namely our gardens.

Photo by Tim Webb

 

55 MILLION BIRD KILLS.

 

Check out the RSPB’s web site and read; the most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds.

I have (had) a lovely wildlife garden patch at the end of my garden with nest boxes and feeders all over the place and then, I got new neighbours with three bird eating cats and their first snack were some of my young blackbirds. I thought I would blog for some advice on the subject. “How can I persuade cats to go elsewhere”? Some responses make me wonder if it is safe to walk our streets!  I won’t re-print them here but sadly there seems no way to stop cats. Apparently those sonic beams do not work, cats get used to all the other gadgets and in the end I am forced to admit that like the rural bird population, our urban birds have to take the same chances.  So, do your best to hide the nest boxes, ivy is pretty good. Make it awkward or impossible for cats to sit on the nest box roof, I have seen cats sitting on the roof waiting for the mother to either come out or try and get back in with food for the chicks.

Personally I think the grey squirrel is an even worse predator than cats and nothing stops a squirrel getting to the nest. Then there are crows, magpies and surprise surprise great spotted woodpeckers, now who would have thought they would attack a nest box and eat the chicks but they do, I have seen it with my own eyes. One farmer had a tit box opened up by a woodpecker and then that same woodpecker began to open up a tree sparrow’s nest in the hollow branch of an apple tree. He fashioned a sheet of steel around the branch to protect that nest.

Finally and inevitably of course there is ‘man’. That cosy kestrel family scene in the barrel came to a spectacular end when some of our enterprising ‘yoof’ burned the barn down. Luckily all the chicks had just reached the flying stage by then so, I hope they all survived but all this just shows what a perilous task nesting can be for our birds. One carefully placed nest box that produces young to the flying stage is a big deal for birds; I hope you will help them out.


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