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 email@example.com 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?
The winter months are normally a busy time for Blue Tits in our gardens. However, the latest figures from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) show that numbers are down, probably due to a wet summer.
During the winter months a lack of food in the wider countryside encourages both adult and juvenile Blue Tits into gardens, to make use of feeders. However, this November BTO Garden BirdWatchers reported the lowest numbers of Blue Tits in gardens since 2003, thought to be due to a lack of young birds this year.
The explanation for our missing birds can be found by looking back to the early summer. The wet weather across the breeding season, particularly in June, would have made it difficult for the adults to feed themselves and their chicks. Normally we would expect to see large numbers of newly fledged young come into gardens to seek food, but this year BTO Garden BirdWatch results show the lowest numbers of Blue Tits in August for eight years. This indicates that fewer young birds survived than usual this year and these findings are supported by the preliminary results from the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS) and Constant Effort Sites Scheme (CES) which found that Blue Tits had their worst breeding season on record.
Data from bird ringers show a 31% reduction in the numbers of young Blue Tits compared to the average for the last five years. This could be due in part to low numbers of eggs that were laid, with females struggling to get into good condition after a cold, damp start to the spring. Young birds leaving the nest might have also been affected by the wet June weather.
These findings certainly mirror those of a small nest box scheme which I run here in Glamorgan where Blue Tits struggled this year with lower than average clutch sizes and high chick mortality. I’ll publish the results from the last three years of that scheme on this blog in the New Year.
So, will the poor breeding season affect the number of Blue Tits we see in gardens throughout the rest of the winter and indeed affect the number of breeding adults next year? The BTO needs your help to continue monitoring their fortunes, and you can do this by signing up to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch survey. This survey seeks information from birdwatchers about what is happening in their gardens throughout the year. It allows us to better understand garden birds and other wildlife and is excellent way to see how populations of birds like the Blue Tit are faring year on year.
It’s as if somebody’s flicked the ‘Off’ switch this week in my back garden in Whitchurch, Cardiff. Up until last weekend I could almost guarantee seeing a bird or two out there if I was willing to wait no more than around 5 minutes. But now, it’s almost completely deserted for most of the day. It may be brass monkey weather out there at the moment, but hopefully this is a sign, in the birds’ minds if not ours, that Spring has arrived.
I’ve been lucky enough to get 25 species in the garden since the beginning of December, averaging around 15 different species a week. Sounds as if I should get out more? Probably. But, I’ve got a good idea of what’s being going on because of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Not to be mistaken with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place over one weekend every year, the BTO’s GBW is a weekly survey which takes place throughout the year. I’ve been doing it since January 2010 and it’s given me a real insight into the movements of birds in and out of my garden over that period – subtle seasonal changes which I probably would hardly have noticed if I hadn’t been taking part in this survey. And it’s all online so you can have access and explore your personal records at the click of a mouse.
For instance, I can quickly see that I haven’t seen a Goldcrest in the garden since October 2012, and that my highest count for Greenfinch was 20 back in September 2010.
Starlings, after being virtually absent for a couple of years, returned this winter in numbers comparable to those seen in 2010. Chaffinches always appear around the beginning of October and depart before the end of March, and are very rarely seen at any other time of the year. Feral Pigeons, which used to be present every week, have surprisingly crashed from an average maximum count of around 10 in 2010 to no more than 2 or 3 in recent months – and there were several weeks in 2011 when I didn’t seen any at all.
Best of all, you can work out the Top 10 for your garden! Here’s mine:
It’s too easy to dismiss your garden bird records as being not that important in the overall grand scheme of things. But gardens are becoming ever more important refuges for certain species of birds which are under so much pressure in the wider countryside. The collection of such records is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.
BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a ‘citizen scientist’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain.
If you haven’t considered taking part in the Garden BirdWatch survey, please consider giving it a go. Consistency of counts is the important thing, but rest assured, the BTO certainly won’t mind if you miss the odd week here and there!
Siskins have been ever present in my garden over the last month or so, with males, females and family parties all busy wrestling with the Goldfiches over nyjer, mixed seed and sunflower hearts. They are an occasional winter visitor in my garden and certainly not regular through summer in years gone by.
It’s with great interest then to read the latest news from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team. It seems my own local observations are being repeated throughout the UK, and most notably in Wales and Scotland.
Over the past few weeks, BTO Garden BirdWatchers have been charting an unprecedented movement of Siskins into gardens, where the birds have been seen feeding on sunflower hearts and nyger seed provided in hanging seed feeders. The scale of the influx has staggered researchers monitoring how and when birds use gardens and the resources they provide.
As Mike Toms, BTO Head of Garden Ecology, comments:
“The scale of this movement into gardens has caught us by surprise. At this time of the year we would normally see Siskins reported from one in twenty gardens nationwide but this year the figure has jumped to one in seven. In Scotland and Wales these delightful finches are being reported from roughly half of the gardens from which we receive weekly reports.”
“We believe that the influx stems from the combination of a good breeding season – the Siskin is an early breeder so probably benefitted from the good weather at the start of the year – and the poor weather of recent weeks – with the birds turning to garden feeding stations because of difficulty in finding food elsewhere.”
This is the second summer, where observations in my garden have mirrored national trends. Last year I reported the unexpected arrival of a Woodpigeon (back this summer too), but I’ve also witnessed the trend in Goldfinches, with this species being present everyday in the garden throughout the year now.
By contributing to Garden BirdWatch, I not only enjoy the sight of birds visiting the garden, but make a contribution to the national understanding of trends in bird populations as they happen.