Is it nearly Spring yet?
Well, it depends who you ask. While we patiently hang on for the 21 March, optimistic Celts have already celebrated Imbolc on 1 February. Its arrival was also heralded on 1 February by chicken farmers the world over, as they celebrated the day of their patron saint, St Brigid (it's on Wikipedia, it must be true...). Candlemas on 2 February is regarded as the last day of winter by some, especially any Groundhogs that awoke to see their shadows.
For wildlife, this time of year is known as the ‘hungry gap’ – at the moment it looks more like winter than it has all year and Nature’s larder is looking depressingly empty.
For farmland birds, this is when planted wild bird seed mixes come into their own. They contain a mixture of seed-bearing plants and can be designed to take a number of things into account, including the rate at which plants drop their seeds, the dietary preferences of target bird species, and the soil properties of the area.
Location of the mix is key to the usefulness of the mix – some species prefer to be in the open so they can see predators coming, while others prefer a place where they can remain secluded for much of the time. The amount is important too, with larger blocks suffering less from edge effects and able to host larger flocks.
So for example, if you want a fat, healthy population of corn buntings ready to get stuck straight in to the breeding season, establish a couple of acres of mix containing some of their favourites such as barley, oats and triticale, in an area that’s mostly open with a few isolated bushes.
It can be quite technical stuff - as a farmer, it could prove one of the more complicated crops you grow if you don’t have the proper guidance on what to include and how to establish and manage it.
Luckily, free advice is something that’s readily available through several RSPB projects. Mixes are proving to be a great success wherever farmers have worked with us to get them right.
With the right components, game cover can provide lots of seeds for small birds. Could you keep yours a little longer..?
Another early February date is the end of the shooting season on 1 February. Do you have game cover containing the kind of seed bearing plants that can help small birds survive the winter? You may think it’s now outlived its usefulness, but I know of a small flock of 90 corn buntings in the game cover near my office that would disagree with you!
If you can, please consider keeping it until the weather starts to improve. That way, as spring really kicks in, our corn buntings will be well fed enough to turn their thoughts to other things. After all it is nearly Valentine’s Day. Now there’s a date we can all agree on....
Do you have wild bird seed mixes on your farm? What birds have you seen using them this winter?
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