The Beautiful Song Thrush

The song thrush differs from the blackbird and mistle thrush in both size and posture, as it is smaller and stands less upright.

Both the male and the female look very similar, with brown uppers, pale, speckled under parts and just a hint of golden brown around the breast area. They have light pink legs and brown bills. They also sport small dark spots on their white bellies. As with other ground-feeding woodland birds, such as robins, the song thrush has largish eyes. The juveniles can be identified by the pale buff streaks across their backs.

Unlike the mistle thrush, song thrushes will usually stick to low-level flying, below tree height and between bushes. They will often sit absolutely motionless for quite some time within the bushes or another carefully chosen spot.

The song thrush has a distinctive song which it likes to project across the garden from a nice prominent perch. It is repetitive but very clear. For many, it’s a favourite.

Feeding

The song thrush enjoys insects, worms and berries. They will also feed on snails if access to worms is limited due to the ground being hard or frozen.

If you are putting out wild bird seed, also supply some soft fruit such as raisins and apples, which song thrushes love. They are ground feeders, so it is a good idea to place these goodies on a ground tray. They like to feed near close cover and will frequently be spotted running to collect scraps before running back to their cover, where they will enjoy the treat in seclusion and away from prying eyes.

Always remove any remaining wild bird seed or other scraps provided before it gets dark, as leaving them out can attract rats and other unwelcome visitors to the garden.

Nesting

Song thrushes will choose a shady location, in or near trees or bushes. The female will construct the nest by fashioning earth, twigs and grass into a cup shape. Song thrushes will line their nests with saliva and dung or mud to ensure it is comfortable and smooth.

The Song thrush lays eggs that are a beautiful blue colour with black spots which the female will incubate alone. Once they are hatched, both the male and the female will work together feed the young.

Location

Although song thrushes are resident to the UK, they will migrate south in the autumn and may travel as far as Spain, France and Portugal. Many remain in the UK throughout the winter months and may even be joined by distant relatives from Scandinavia and further afield.

Conservation

The song thrush is now a Red List species of bird, as the population has declined significantly in the last few years. It is thought the change is due to agricultural intensification and the subsequent hedgerow loss, as well as differences in the way woodlands are now managed. However, there is some evidence to suggest this decline may be stabilising. Although the song thrush is a fairly infrequent garden visitor, when they do show up, most often in the winter and spring, it is a pleasure to watch them.

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Why Windows Can Be Dangerous for Birds

Unfortunately, windows are a hazard for birds and are the cause of a great many fatalities and serious injuries. This is mainly due to the risk of window strike. In addition, some birds develop a habit of eating the sealant putty found around the outside of the window.

Window Strike
If you see a bird fly into a window, or find one dazed or passed out beneath one, it may have concussion. It is very rare for window strike to cause broken legs or wings, but it might result in internal injuries. The best course of action is to place the bird in a safe, dark place and allow it to rest for a few hours. Over the course of this period, it will recover or the injuries it sustained will prove fatal.

Birds will frequently fly directly into windows because they do not realise they are there. The reflection of surrounding trees or the sky confuses them. This has become even more of a problem in recent years as clearer double-glazed windows increase in popularity.

Homeowners or residents can help to reduce the risk of window strike by following a few simple steps. This will not eliminate the risks completely, but will certainly help.

The first step is to make the window as obvious as possible for birds. Sticking or hanging objects on to the outside of the glass can achieve this. Almost any shape or image will be effective in making the window more visible to birds. However, bird shapes, such as the self-adhesive stickers and silhouettes that can be found in local garden centres or online, have proved the most successful.

Hanging blinds, preferable the vertical type, can change the way the window looks to birds, thus preventing them from colliding with it.

Do not place feeding stations or wild bird seed too close to windows, especially if local cats are likely to make the birds jump. Startling the birds while they are eating wild bird seed could cause them to accidentally fly into a window if it is very close.

Putty
Many birds like to spend time pecking at putty around doors and windows. It is particularly common for tits to do this.

One reason why they enjoy this activity could be that insects hide in the wood of older-style window frames. The bird may be able to see or hear the insects and will peck at the putty in order to eat them.

Another common reason for putty pecking is the fact that many types of putty contain linseed or a variety of fish oils. If the bird is deficient in one of these mineral substances, due to a scarcity of it in its natural diet, it will attempt to ingest the putty.

Although not dangerous for the bird, it is certainly not good for the windows. Unfortunately, however, it can be difficult to discourage such behaviour. Covering the putty with paint or plastic strips can help. It is also possible to buy synthetic sealant, which does not contain the linseed. Aluminium ammonium, which birds find distasteful, can also be brushed around the whole frame to deter them.

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Preventing the Spread of Disease

When you are putting out wild bird food for birds visiting your garden, it is a good idea to keep in mind that as numbers increase, so too does the risk of disease. However, taking a few preventative measures will help to ensure your visitors remain as fit and healthy as possible.

The majority of diseases in birds are spread via their droppings. Often infected droppings will mix with food, putting the birds at risk. In addition, rats and other animals attracted by wild bird food can also transmit infections to birds. As such, it is a good idea to protect against potential infection from all possible sources. Follow these tips to keep birds happy and healthy in your garden.

Practising good hygiene is very important, especially in the summer when the hot weather can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria and food goes off quickly.

Keep a careful eye on any food you are supplying. You should only set out enough food for one or two days. If food takes longer than this to clear, reduce the amount you are putting out.

To make it easier to keep the area clean, place food in feeders, on ground feeding trays or on a bird table rather than directly on to the ground. Remove any ground food each evening to discourage rats, which often carry diseases that are harmful to humans, birds and other animals.

Mouldy food and droppings can be a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites, so it is vital to keep feeding stations clear of these.

Frequently wash bird tables and feeders using disinfectant. To prevent the accumulation of droppings, move feeding stations regularly.

Clean out containers and refresh the water every day so droppings do not contaminate supplies.

It is extremely important to look after your own health and personal hygiene. Never bring feeders into your home ? instead clean them in your garden using an outside tap. Ensure utensils and other tools are not used for anything else. Always wear gloves when handling feeding equipment or when dealing with birds that are sick or injured. Similarly, if you are disposing of dead birds or large amounts of droppings, wear gloves and remember to wash your hands afterwards.

Despite all of the warnings, there is no need to worry unduly. Following all of the above steps will minimise the risk of disease and make looking after and observing the birds in your garden more enjoyable. If birds in your garden do become unwell, stop putting food out temporarily while you clean and disinfect feeders.

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Photographing Garden Birds

Many people who provide wild bird seed for the birds visiting their gardens enjoy watching the activity around the bird table or hanging feeders. Often they like to try to capture the scene by taking a few photographs. Unfortunately, however, due to the fact that birds are rarely still, it can prove difficult to get a really good shot.

Until fairly recently, wildlife photography required the use of professional equipment, such as a 35mm SLR camera and a telephoto lens, not to mention the skills to go with it. However, the digital revolution of the 1990s has enabled amateurs with significantly less experience and relatively basic equipment to take up wildlife photography quite successfully.

Digital cameras, including digital SLRs, are now considerably more compact and typically perform much better in low-light conditions than traditional film. The resolution is also significantly improved and the equipment required to capture the finest detail is now far more affordable. In addition, a lot of the equipment people have to watch birds, such as tripods and telescopes, can be utilised.

An example of this is a spotting scope, which can become a telephoto lens if the user points the digital camera down its eyepiece. For optimum results, a small external lens on the camera and a wide eyepiece on the scope are best. It may also be necessary to make an adjustment to the vignette and focusing on the cameras optical zoom. This will ensure the camera focuses on the intended image and not the inside of the telescope.

Even the smallest movement from the birds may cause camera blur. Luckily, in contrast to old-fashioned film, digital cameras enable the user to pick and choose the images they wish to keep and to delete unsuccessful ones from the memory card. There are also some additional steps that can be taken to reduce camera blur.

Increase Shutter Speed

As a rule, shutter speed will need to be at least 1/500th of a second when photographing wildlife. When photographing birds, a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second is advisable. Not only will this help to improve the image if the animal is moving, but it will also reduce the effects of camera shake caused by an unsteady hand. This is useful as it is not always practical to use a tripod when photographing wildlife.

Use the Continuous Focus Mode

If you are photographing something that is not completely motionless, such as birds or other wildlife, focus blur can become a problem. This happens because the AF motor gets confused. Some cameras, especially the more modern ones, have enhanced programmes for auto-focus. However, even in makes and models of camera that do not, switching the camera to continuous focus mode can reduce focus blur and maximise efficiency. Continuous focus mode is sometimes known as AI Servo (Canon) and AC-C (Nikon).

The main thing to remember is to have fun watching the garden birds tucking into their wild bird seed. It is important not to disturb them while they are eating, as this could deter them from visiting again. However, by following some of the tips outlined above, it is possible to capture some wonderful images which can be enjoyed for many years to come.

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Baby Birds

It is very common for baby birds to be found on the ground, hopping about and with no sign of a parent.

Thankfully, this is a normal stage in fledgling development. They are perhaps experimenting by looking for wild bird food and exploring a little further afield before they are actually able to fly and leave the nest for good.

Fledglings are rarely left by parents to fend for themselves and although you may not be able to see them, the parents are likely to be somewhere nearby, collecting food or keeping an eye on their offspring. In fact, there is a good chance they may have been scared off by your presence and are waiting to be reunited with their youngster as soon as the perceived threat has passed.

It is vital that fledglings are not touched and certainly not removed from where they are. Only in very extreme cases, when the bird is injured or orphaned, should they be relocated. This would be considered an absolute last resort. Do not offer wild bird food, other than a supply in your usual feeder.

Most common garden birds will fledge a day or two before they can fly, spending some time on the ground waiting for their flight feathers to mature.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. House martins, swallows and swifts will only leave the nest once they are capable of flying. These birds should not be discovered on the ground unless something is wrong.

As they are able to hop in and out of the nest at a very young age, tawny owl chicks sometimes take a tumble on to the ground. Do not risk interfering, as parents are generally extremely protective and will attack you if they perceive you as a threat.

In the majority of cases, removal from its natural habitat is the worst course of action for a fledgling. Their chances of survival become significantly reduced.

In cases where the bird is in significant danger, such as on a busy road, it may be a good idea to carefully move it to safety. It should always remain within easy hearing distance of its original location.

Baby birds should only be put back into a nest if you are absolutely sure which one it came from. In addition, make sure the bird is healthy, as parents have a habit of ejecting the weaker of their young to allow them to offer more food to the remaining stronger ones.

For those chicks that are definitely abandoned, contact a local rescue centre. They should be able to offer assistance and expert care.

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Supplying Wild Bird Food ? FAQs

Many people would like to start providing food for the birds visiting their gardens, but find the information available either confusing or overwhelming. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions to make things a little clearer.

What types of food are best for wild birds?

Many different varieties of bird either live in the UK or visit at certain times of the year. Each species will have slightly different requirements when it comes to the types of food they need. For those who wish to attract a diverse range of birds to their garden, it makes sense therefore to supply an assortment of different foods.

Many species enjoy household scraps such as cooked rice, pastry and breadcrumbs. Blackbirds and thrushes love soft fruits, including pears and bruised apples.

If you are buying wild bird food, look for a mix of nuts, flaked maize, millet and sunflower seed as well as live feed. Waxworms and mealworms are very popular.

What is the best food during cold weather?

Providing food for the birds during cold spells can make a real difference to their well-being. During the winter, it is best to put food and fresh water out regularly. When the weather is really bad, put food out morning and afternoon. Frequently check that the water supplied has not iced over.

Because of their very high fat content, food bars and bird cakes are particularly good during the cold weather. Peanuts are also very high in energy, as are good-quality wild bird seed mixtures. In addition, birds can be fed suet fat, grated mild cheese, dried fruit, pastry and cooked potatoes.

Are salted peanuts suitable for wild birds?

As the majority of birds are unable to process salt, salted nuts, bacon, crisps or chips are not suitable foods to provide. Instead, ensure peanuts and any other nuts provided are unsalted and also that grated cheese is mild, as this is lower in salt.

To prevent birds from taking the whole nut and feeding it to their young, only supply peanuts in metal mesh feeders. This is especially important for the duration of the breeding season. Whole peanuts are a potential choking hazard for baby birds.

Is mealworm a suitable bird food?

Mealworms are packed with nutrition and as such are perfect for insect-loving birds such as wrens, robins and blue tits. Mealworms can be supplied all year round but are particularly useful for the birds during very hot or very cold weather, when supplies of insects are naturally depleted and harder for the birds to find.

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Deformities in Wild Birds

Deformities can affect all species of bird and can occur as a result of injury, disease or a genetic defect. Deformities most often affect the legs, feet and beak. Research shows that less than one per cent birds examined exhibit deformities, which suggests that survival rates for those affected are low.

Foot Problems
Foot deformities are most common in ground feeders. They tend to be caused by injury or disease and, as such, more cases are recorded in cities and towns than rural areas. Feeding stations providing wild bird food might attract birds with difficulties as they are more likely to struggle to find food on their own.

If a bird suffers a cut foot, it can become infected and swell up, causing the bird to become lame.

Bumblefoot is an inflammation caused by bacteria, which enters through small breaks in the skin. Crows, birds of prey and other large birds are particularly susceptible and when affected will find it hard to walk or perch

Pigeons, starlings and house sparrows are vulnerable to avian pox, which results in the development of warts or growths on their feet.

Another very common problem among birds living in towns and cities is deformity and amputation after they become entangled in discarded wire or thread. Abandoned fishing lines cause similar problems in rural areas. Any subsequent infection is usually fatal.

Some birds are born with additional or missing toes, but this is rare. Those with more significant congenital defects are unlikely to survive.

Deformities of the Bill
A deformed beak may result from an abnormal growth or wearing process. For example, a crossed bill might occur when the upper, lower or both mandibles start to grow out of alignment. In addition, if the tip of one mandible is severed, the remaining opposing mandible will continue to grow unrestricted in either an upward or downward arc.

A crossed bill and other similar deformities can be inherited. One example, which is often seen in starlings, is an elongated and excessively curved mandible.

Problems with the bill may cause difficulties. Birds may struggle to eat normally, which in itself could prevent filing of the beak and result in excessive growth. A bird with a deformed bill may struggle to maintain its feathers, leading to an increase in lice and other unpleasant parasites.

Unfortunately, very little can be done to help wild birds with deformities. However, as affected birds may find it more difficult to source food, setting up feeding stations and providing wild bird food could make a difference in individual cases.

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Choosing a Bird Bath

Many people who supply wild bird food also like to provide a bird bath. There are a huge variety of bird baths available to buy. These can add functionality to a garden as well as being very attractive, especially the sculptured and ornamental ones. Bird baths offer a safe environment for birds and other garden visitors to drink, clean their feathers and bathe.

Some examples of the types of bird baths on the market include rafts, wrap-around, antique and the more modern ceramic style. There really is something for every taste.

Before selecting a bird bath to buy, consider the following.

Design

With so many different types of bird bath available, choose a design that complements the overall style of the garden. This will ensure it blends into the surroundings nicely.

Material

Choose a material that works best for you and your needs.

Depth of Bowl

A good bird bath will provide a variety of depths for the birds using it. Different birds have different needs and preferences regarding water depth. A bath with a depth variation of about 1 to 4 inches is best. Choosing a bath with sloping sides can facilitate this. The surface will need to be rough in order to enable the birds to climb in and out easily.

Size

As bird baths often become a focal point in a garden, it is important to choose a size appropriate to the dimensions of the available space. The type of birds you are hoping to attract will also have a bearing on the size of bird bath chosen. Some birds are solitary and like to bathe alone, while others, such as starlings, are sociable and like to bathe in groups and therefore require a larger bird bath in which to do so.

Cleaning

It is really important to keep bird baths clean. The simpler the design of bird bath, the easier it will be to keep the water fresh and the bath itself free from algae, bird droppings and other contaminants. Regular cleaning using diluted disinfectant and a stiff brush is effective. The bath should be emptied regularly and topped up with fresh water.

Height

Different-sized birds have different preferences regarding the height of a bird bath. As a rule, bigger birds prefer to bathe closer to the ground than smaller ones.

Visibility

Although it is nice to be able to see the birds easily, the bath should be positioned near protective cover such as shrubs and small trees ? this is not where you would place wild bird food, however. This ensures the birds are kept safe from nearby predators.

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Choosing Garden Bird Feeders

There are a variety of different feeders available on the market. The type chosen will come down to a number of factors, including the sort of food supplied, the proposed location of the feeder, the size and type of garden and which birds it is intended for.

Tube feeders are suitable for wild bird seed, while mesh feeders work better for things such as peanuts. If you are supplying suet, another type of feeder will be required.

As different birds have different preferences, it can work really well to have a few different feeders around the garden. Before choosing a specific feeder, however, do a little research to determine which birds may visit. Aside from keeping a watchful eye on the wildlife in and around the garden, clues can be found in the flora and fauna within the garden itself. For example, groundsel attracts sparrows, which tend to be ground feeders, so a tray feeder may be a good idea.

Hanging Feeders

There is a huge choice of hanging feeders available to buy. They come in a wide range of sizes and designs. One important thing to consider when choosing a feeder is hygiene and how easy it will be to keep it clean and free from contaminants. Additional considerations might include whether or not to choose a hanging feeder with a tray to catch dropped seed, or to allow the wild bird seed to drop straight to the floor, enabling ground-feeding birds such as blackbirds and sparrows to polish it off. As squirrels love hanging feeders, especially those filled with peanuts, some people like to ensure they buy one that is squirrel-proof. It can be fascinating watching a squirrel attempt to access the wild bird seed, but they can cause a significant amount of damage if not kept in check.

Ground Tables

Ground tables are frequented by a variety of species, including sparrows, blackbirds, robins, doves, pigeons and wagtails. Purchasing a ground feeder such as a tray will ensure good hygiene can be observed. The tray can easily be cleaned and old food removed before the food is replenished. Tray feeders are suitable for all sorts of wild bird food, such as suet, seed, fruit, bacon rind and water-soaked bread. Leaving food on the ground at night can attract pests, particularly rats, so it is a good idea to ensure only one day’s worth of food is supplied at a time or the tray is removed before dark. Ground trays can be left on a variety of surfaces, including decking, patios and lawns.

Raised Bird Tables

Many smaller birds, such as the tree sparrow, pied wagtails and the siskin, like to feed on raised tables. However, they can also attract hawks, magpies and kestrels that are on the look out for smaller birds. When positioning a raised table feeding station, ensure it is not too close to closed cover where predators can hide. Again, it is important to keep the table clean, remove old food and replenish supplies regularly.

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How to Prevent Squirrels from Stealing Wild Bird Seed

It can be really fun and interesting watching squirrels in the garden. However, they can scare smaller garden birds and many people look for ways to deter them from eating the wild bird seed they are supplying.

There are many new and innovative types of feeders designed to be ‘squirrel-proof’, but the creatures are very determined and can often outsmart these. Unfortunately, squirrels can also cause quite significant damage to both land and property. In addition, they are frequently noisy, especially in their mating seasons.

As their incisor teeth do not stop growing, squirrels must gnaw almost continuously to keep them worn down to a manageable size. They have huge appetites, consuming approximately a kilogram of food in just a week.

Squirrels are very difficult to outsmart. They are extremely adept at climbing, jumping and balancing. Polished steel structures are no obstacle and they are able to travel more than eight feet through the air between trees or landing posts. Their tails allow then to balance and easily get across wire or lengths of taut rope. They are also well equipped to both dig and swim.

There are a number of options for those who find squirrels a nuisance. Aside from adopting some of the tactics listed below, setting up a feeding station especially for squirrels can sometimes help. If the squirrels continue to cause a lot of problems, it is possible to enlist the help of a Squirrel Control Service, which will be in a position to relocate the squirrel and give some preventative advice.

Some of the most useful tactics include purchasing a squirrel-proof feeder. This should be hung in the centre of the lawn at a distance of at least ten feet from surrounding bushes and tree branches. A pole system can be used. It is worth bearing in mind that ‘squirrel-free’, ‘squirrel-resistant’ or ‘squirrel0proof’ do not necessarily mean the squirrel will not be able to access the food. It might mean that the feeder is guaranteed against damage by squirrels or that the animal will find the feeder more difficult, but not impossible to get into. Other feeders will stop squirrels stealing the food by shutting away the seed when the squirrel lands on it.

Using a squirrel baffle, a squirrel dome or other device to stop them accessing the wild bird food in hanging bird feeders is another way to deter them from visiting.

Ground-feeding on trays as an alternative to hanging feeders might also work. It is possible to buy various sizes of guards to place over the trays. These give the birds access to the food, while preventing squirrels from reaching it.

Ultimately, the type of feeder or deterrent chosen will also be dependent upon what species of bird they are intended to attract and what sort of food will be provided. Therefore it is important to carry out careful research before deciding which type of feeder to purchase.

Applying grease to poles to make climbing them more difficult can also be quite effective.

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