St Valentine’s Day is associated with the coming of spring and the mating of birds – the two go together. One bird that is very much under threat is the swift because of an increasing lack of places where they can nest. If you have space why not install a swift box ready for when they arrive in May? The RSPB has instructions for making (or buying) a swift box and where to place it.
Other birds too are in need of nesting places – you can install different sorts of nest boxes, plant trees and hedges (as future nesting places) or build a dead hedge, and so help encourage a resurgence of bird numbers. As you prune plants back and clear dead stalks, you can gather materials for building a dead hedge – https://greentau.org/2021/10/19/count-down-87/comment-page-1/
Whilst we may not be directly able to aid wild birds affected by avian flu -and which is devastating seabird colonies – we can help protect our garden birds from disease by ensuring we regularly clean birdbath and feeders.
According to the recent review, the State of the World’s Birds, 48% of bird species populations are in decline, 39% are stable, 6% showing increases whilst a further 7% have unknown trends. The major cause of decline in bird populations is the growing footprint of human consumption. Alexander Lee, of the Metropolitan University Manchester and leader of the review, says that people should not feel helpless: “We all have connections [to birds]. If a company is associated with deforestation in Brazil, don’t buy stuff from them,” he said. “And if everyone spares as much land as possible within their gardens for nature, then that adds up to quite a large area. Another lever is voting – we get the politicians we vote for.”
The RSPB is urging the public to get their hands dirty this weekend and create mud pies to help endangered birds such as house martins, swifts and swallows get enough sludge to build their nests.
A nine-day mini-heatwave is hitting the UK, which coincides with the return of migratory birds here to breed. Many of these birds have flown thousands of miles on their journey. But conservationists are concerned that the ground is getting so hard it could stop them from being able to make their nests.
By leaving out dishes of mud mixed with water, or creating little puddles in the garden, the public can make a big difference, said Becca Smith, of the RSPB. “It’s the easiest thing that people can do to help these birds after they’ve flown all the way from Africa to our shores. Plus, a bit of mud pie-making is fun for the weekend.”
Can we do more to encourage bird populations that frequent our gardens?
Fresh water – provide a bird bath, pond or shallow bowl of fresh water for both drinking and bathing. Bowls and baths should be regularly cleaned and topped up with fresh water.
Food – providing food is an easy way of attracting birds. Commercially produced bird food offers a wide range of seed and fat based foods. Some are specially adapted so that spilt seeds do not sprout so preventing a mini grain field growing under your bird feeder. Different foods can attract different birds. For example nyger seeds are popular with goldfinches.
Growing bird food – you can provide bird food by growing it in your garden. Goldfinches like eating the seeds from dandelion heads, from teasels and from lavender bushes (leave the ‘dead’ seed heads in place). Blackbirds like apples. Starlings like the berries from the mahonia bushes and yew trees. Blue tits and great tits like eating aphids and other insects that congregate on plants stems and shoots.
Hygiene – birds can be killed by germs that multiply when bird feeders become fouled by bird droppings and by stale/ rotting food. Regularly cleaning bird feeders is important, as is removing stale food. The ground underneath bird feeders can also become foul so it is good to regularly move their positions and to clean the area underneath them.
Shelter – hedges and shrubs provide welcome places of shelter especially for small birds such as wrens and sparrows. Bushes can provide a safe place from which birds can check out the safety of a bird feeder before darting out.
Nesting boxes provide a particular form of shelter. Different birds have different requirements. Blue tits need boxes with only a small opening, whilst robins prefer a wider opening. Swifts and martins need high level nesting places. Hygiene again is important: winter is a good time to clean old nesting boxes ready for the new season.
Variety of habitats – by learning more about different bird species, we can understand better the habitats they prefer and how we can shape our gardens to better meet their needs. Black birds for example are ground feeders. They eat grubs and worms that they pull from the soil. Short, rather than long, grass makes this easier. Black birds can’t hang from bird feeders but they can perch on bird tables. Sparrows and wrens like hedges. Starlings like tall trees where they gather and survey the land.
This winter I have noticed more birds using the bird bath both for drinking and for washing. I make a point of changing the water frequently – and replacing ice with water! It’s new popularity maybe because I have resisted it so that it is in the middle of the lawn well away from plants and bushes where predators could hide.