National Nest Box Week 2019 (NNBW) starts today, 14 February. Why not take part by erecting a nest box in your garden or (with the landowners permission) a local greenspace? Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. This is especially true in urban areas and it’s making it tough for species whose numbers are in decline like House Sparrow (-35%) , Starling (-74%) and Swift (-51%) .
If you’re not sure how to go about it, to help us all celebrate NNBW the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has produced a new ‘essential guide’, full of useful information on i) what to look for when buying a nest box, ii) box placement and iii) looking after a box longer term. The free guide is available from firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team on 01842-750050.
Here in East Glamorgan, to celebrate National Nest Box Week, the Glamorgan Bird Club is organising a nest box making event at Kenfig National Nature Reserve on Saturday, 16 February. If you’d like to join in, please meet the team at the Kenfig Visitor Centre workshop at 9 a.m.
The simple act of putting up a nest box can make a real difference for our birds, providing them with the space they need to raise a family. Taking part in NNBW gives you the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box. What’s not to like?
Ask birders over a particular age what sparked their interest in birding and they’ll often say that it all began with ‘birdnesting’ or ‘egging’ – collecting wild birds’ eggs. As late as the mid-1950s there was a thriving playground economy with eggs, particularly those of scarce birds, being bought and sold for good money. It’s not surprising that boys (and it was almost always boys) became very adept at finding the nests of many species. But, thankfully the Wild Birds Protection Act 1954 made it illegal to collect eggs and, despite a few hardcore egg thieves remaining, the practice has largely disappeared and has become very much a taboo amongst birders.
However, the demise of ‘nesting’ has also led to the loss of those skills once employed to find nests – skills that, if people could be persuaded to re-discover them, and if they adhere to the Code of Conduct, could be of huge benefit to bird conservation.
Explaining why numbers of some species of birds are crashing can be difficult. More often than not a complex suite of factors are responsible. It can be like a jigsaw puzzle where you need all the pieces to be able to get the complete picture – and that’s where ‘nest recording’ is so vitally important.
Volunteers who monitor nests and submit their data to the BTO through the Nest Recording Scheme (NRS) help build up a picture of nest productivity i.e. how successful each species’ nesting attempts are in terms of numbers of eggs laid and chicks fledged. Over the years, patterns appear which can help explain whether breeding productivity is one of the reasons for the demise, or indeed the success, of a species. If breeding productivity doesn’t appear to be a factor then it’s clear that there are other issues involved.
But, the NRS needs more volunteers and, with the breeding season just beginning, why not strike while the iron’s hot and get involved?
Reading the BTO’s A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests is a great introduction to the lost art of finding birds’ nests and how to monitor them safely. As you would expect, it has comprehensive species accounts – over 146 in total – each one a wealth of information about the nesting biology of each species: nest structure; when, where and how many eggs are laid; egg colour; number of broods etc.
There are also a whole host of tips about how to go about finding birds’ nests. There are techniques for those who may prefer the patient or proactive approach. We’re guided through the NRS methodology and what information should be recorded. But, of course, there is the caution that the welfare of birds should always come first and that BTO nest recording is based on the Code of Conduct, which is a protocol designed to ensure that monitoring a nest does not influence its outcome. There is an introductory guide to wildlife legislation which includes a list of Schedule 1 species whose nests much not be approached without a license. And we’re also asked that nests of other species should never be approached or searched for unless the intention is to submit the information collected to the NRS.
The latest edition of the annual report State of Birds in Wales has just been published. It draws heavily on the wide range of BTO surveys undertaken by volunteers in Wales.
There’s a wealth of information to discover, with sections on seabirds, wintering waders, rare breeders and widespread breeders.
Population changes for species are outlined. Golden Plover is now a rare breeder in our country, and both Starling and Swift have seen declines of 50% or more since the mid-1990s. Notably, Stonechats have doubled in number, which may be just as well, given the harsh winter we’ve just come through.
Mediterranean Gulls look set to follow Little Egrets in becoming a breeding bird in Wales. That’s probably no surprise to our colleagues in West Glamorgan, who see this species throughout the year, most notably around Bracelet Bay.
Copies may be downloaded free of charge in English and Welsh.
The late Colin Bibby’s classic text Bird Census Techniques is currently on offer from NHBS at £31.99, a saving of £22 off the usual price.
Though over a decade old now, it is still the primary text for both professional and amateur ornithologists interested in the wide range of methods used to survey wild birds. Each technique is described in detail along with their shortcomings.
This may be a good time to add this interesting and useful text to your bookshelf.