Well, I've been asked to write a garden blog for the foreseeable future - given that the reserve is locked down for the moment. I thought I split it up a bit - get some sightings going like the normal Friday blog and perhaps dream about what might be going on at the reserve at the moment by sharing some stock photos. But also have a think about what we can all do to give nature a home in our own back yards - which is where I'll start today and for the next few Wednesdays until I run out of ideas.
Firstly, I don't have a large garden - perhaps this makes things a little more difficult, with the lack of space, but lots of modern gardens - particularly with new builds, are generally smaller these, days but it doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. In fact even a window box or a balcony can contribute something for wildlife.
As it looks today - this is my back garden:
It's a bit lacking in flowers at the moment - you wouldn't believe my mum and sister are gardeners would you? It obviously doesn't run in the family. Perhaps as a conservationist I am more used to chopping things down or leaving things to go wild - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Oh, I have plenty of excuses for the lack of birds and flowers: I don't have time (well I am a single parent wit 3 kids) but I think time is the one thing I do have at the moment, a son who plays football here - some flowers don't stand a chance, as well as cats, rats and other strange animals which appear from time to time. My kids knew I was doing this today obviously:
The fact is there is plenty you can do no matter how much space you have. I won't cover all the aspects at once or this feature will be over before it began but lets start with an old favourite - bird feeders.
The eagle eyed among you may have noticed the lack of feeders in the back garden - I have tried. In the winter I get plenty of starlings (we commute in opposite directions each day) and occasional other visitors. I'm blaming the cats for now (no none of them are mine). I'll get some more feeders and try again soon.
The action at my house happens at the front. Perhaps the back garden is a bit exposed and there is only one tree and few bushy plants. These offer security to birds from predators such as sparrowhawks but probably not from cats - consider buying a portable feeder hanger if you have the space and move it around frequently (once a month perhaps) to prevent the build up of droppings underneath and reduce disease and cat attacks. Obviously, if you only have trees then go with it.
At the front of my house is a hedge and some trees and t's generally quieter - few people pass this way - In fact I use the back door of my house and rarely the front, so ideal for hanging my feeders.
This is my offering:
Can you tell I made this myself? I used to hang the feeders in the branches of the trees that overhang the hedge but the trees have been dying off and with recent high winds all the branches broke.I had to improvise with some old timber, brackets and hooks I had lying around at home - probably cost me about £2.50 - the lower piece of wood is to stop it falling completely through the hedge in case you were wondering.
It's taken a couple of days for birds to start returning - they look nervous - as it's all new, but in time I'm hopeful other species will return. It's all about the house sparrows at the moment but I'll keep you posted. Thanks to volunteer Pete Manley who has sent me in his house sparrow photo taken in his garden this week:
Some of you may have heard that you shouldn't feed birds in the summer. This is a bit of a myth really - obviously they don't need as much as in the cold winter months as more food is available to them but extra treats can be a real help - so perhaps little and often. Parent birds may visit between feeding youngsters caterpillars, insects, grubs etc for themselves so could be a real time saver for them and a search for food. The other argument is of course that they may take more seeds etc to youngsters meaning they take in less moisture or that fledged birds don't learn to forage for themselves. There is no real prescribed answer which is why the RSPB advise a little and often approach but you can make your own decisions on this one.
One thing we should all agree on is cleanliness. It's not just ourselves we need to be keeping clean and healthy (particularly topical at the moment) but it's the birds too. I cleaned my feeders before putting them up myself. I used hot soapy water but you could use a little disinfectant (about a 5% solution with water) although there is some feeling that birds can sense or taste the chemicals are there and change their behaviour. It's up to you but I feel hot soapy water is just fine.
Being regular is the key - at least 4 times a year but more if you can. Clean them outside and away from your own kitchen sink and utensils etc for your own health and wear rubber gloves. You can use brushes - a bottle brush is good but keep these for this sole purpose as not to spread disease etc.
When you're done wait for them to dry before putting them back up as to prevent the damp from turning the food mouldy. Food uneaten after several days should also be discarded and refilled - this can help you judge how much to fill them up to reduce waste at future refills. Generally, in my garden, it doesn't last long enough for this to be a problem.
At the end of the day we are trying to prevent the spread of disease amongst our feathered friends.
What are those diseases. Well here's 3 - some of the problems and solutions have parallels to our own current outbreak:
This affects the digestive system - finches, pigeons and doves are particularly prone to this one. Birds find it hard to swallow food and become more puffed up looking and lethargic. If you see sick birds you could reduce or even withdraw food and empty baths. If you do ever handle a sick bird wear gloves and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth until you have had a really good wash - sound familiar?
This is a skin infection - birds may display warty looking growths. Tits, dunnocks and pigeons are most prone - we had a great tit which displayed this in our wildlife garden several weeks ago. This is spread by biting insects and direct contact with each other or shared surfaces - hard to get birds to practice social distancing but you can help with more regular cleaning, changing water daily (generally good practice anyway) or stopping/reducing feeding, meaning birds are more spread out and reducing contact - again sounds familiar.
Generally out breaks in winter months especially amongst flocking ground feeders (no social distancing here) such as greenfinches and house sparrows. It's hard to pick any signs apart from that birds will generally look less healthy and weaker. It's spread through droppings so good hygiene around feeding stations is a must (bit like the supermarkets at the moment). Keep yourselves clean too when moving or cleaning your feeders - salmonela affects people too.
Remember the RSPB is a conservation charity - we can only advise and do not take in sick and injured birds ourselves.
Once you've done all this you'll have earned a good rest and can enjoy all the wonderful healthy visitors to your garden. Look out for the Big Garden Birdwatch results which come out tomorrow I believe. See how your garden compares and let us know what you've been spotting recently - if even only to make me jealous. More garden tips next Wednesday - if you can call them that from this amateur
I'll be back on Friday to give you a bit of a run down on anything new at my garden, some pining to be back on the reserve and anything I've seen during my exercise time. I've only been out twice all week so perhaps that won't take long. If you've anything to share just let us know. Take care everyone and stay safe.
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