Identifying Birds

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish one species of bird from another. However, there are some specific features to look out for which can help with identification.

Comparing the size of a bird with others that you can positively identify may help to determine the species. Alternatively, if there are no other birds around, think about how it compares with some of the more common one. Is it the size of a pigeon, for example, or smaller, like a robin?

Take care when estimating how big a bird is when it’s in flight or when the light is poor, as this can prove unreliable.

When attempting to identify an unfamiliar bird, making a note of its colouring can be very helpful. Note as many details as you can, including the colour of under parts, wings, back, tail and the head. Any bright patches are important indicators, as are distinctive markings such as stripes and their location on the bird?s body. Also look for variations in colour depth. For example, are the wings lighter at the tip?

Always keep in mind that variations in light can alter the appearance of the bird, as can wet or damp feathers. Plumage can vary between seasons and it can also depend on the age of the bird.

Another major feature to look out for is the shape of the bird. Think about which other species have a similar shape and pay particular attention to the bill and legs.

Look to see if the bird has webbed feet or talons, as well as noting how long and what colour the legs are.

The shape and length of the bird?s bill will provide a further clue. Small birds with short, stout beaks, such as sparrows or finches, will usually be attracted by wild bird seed. Those that are slightly larger, with hooked-shaped bills, are likely to be birds of prey.

Other Ways to Make Identification Easier

Record sightings in a notebook, providing as much detail as possible.

Listen carefully to the bird?s call. Often these are very distinctive and will differentiate one type of bird from another similar-looking one.

Before visiting a site, do some research. Which species have been observed there in the past? This will give you some idea as to what you might see.

Consider working with a mentor who can offer advice and share knowledge and experiences with you.

Learn the specific names for the various parts of a bird. This is not only useful for writing detailed descriptions, but will also help you to accurately describe what you have seen to fellow enthusiasts. They may then be able to offer some idea as to what you have seen.

Become familiar with local birds. Put out some wild bird seed to attract them to your garden, where you can observe them and their behaviour. You can then take this knowledge with you on a local bird-watching adventure. Less common birds in the area will be easier to spot if you are already aware of the common ones.

Finally, be patient. Bird watching requires a good deal of practice but the more skills you can master, the more pleasure you will get out of it.

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Roof Nest Boxes

Building a new house or adding an extension to your home could allow you to incorporate a nest box as part of the design. Starlings, house sparrows and swifts will all benefit. Providing a nest box is a good way to go further than just supplying birds with wild bird food. If you are working with a builder or developer, they should be happy to help you to make a great nest site.

If there is an existing nest, ensure that the new box is positioned in the original location if possible (often between the soffit and the wall). If you are planning a nest box for starlings, be prepared for some mess and noise. For this reason, it is a good idea to try to site the box out of the way of bedrooms, doors and windows.

Since the introduction of a new type of breathable roofing membrane, there is no longer any need for contractors to leave a 25mm gap under the eaves. Therefore it is now preferable to create some small gaps within the soffit, very near to the wall, so birds are able to access their nests.

Make sure the size of the hole is suitable for the type of birds you wish to appeal to. To attract swifts, the entrance should be at least 25-35mm x 65mm. Starlings require a diameter of 45mm and house sparrows need 32mm.

Internal Nest Boxes

Plywood, angled between roof joists, is a very good substitute for angled boxes. Fitting wire mesh in between the partition and joists will prevent the birds from entering the main roof space.

Concrete nest boxes can also be placed on the wall within the eaves. Birds do not generally like insulation quilting, especially the fibre-glass kind, and instead prefer to nest in those areas without insulation.

External Nest Boxes

For those who are not able to provide internal nest spaces for swifts, house sparrows and starlings, an external nest box may be the answer.

The best location for external nest boxes is under the eaves, sheltered from rain, wind and direct sunlight and not too close to any windows. Also ensure any supplies of wild bird food are placed well away from the nest site.

To attract house martins, who like to nest build beneath the eaves, you could place a pre-built nest facing north or east and under the eaves and away from windows and doors. It is a good idea to place a shelf just below the nest to catch droppings. This should be taken down and cleaned after each season.

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Providing Suitable Nesting Material for Garden Birds

The season and the availability of material will probably determine what sort of nesting material you can provide for the wild birds living in and around your garden. There is no need to go out of your way to find suitable bits and pieces to put out, but anything you can provide will help the birds in their nest building.

Nest material can be anything at all that will be useful for wild birds to use for constructing or lining their nests. Birds look to do a number of things when building them, including the following:

  • To provide a cushion for the eggs, protecting them from both the weight of the adult birds and from the nest base.
  • To ensure the nest is insulated so that a constant temperature is maintained.
  • To provide external camouflage for the nest.

There are various factors that will affect which materials birds choose to build their nests with and how. The species of bird, the size of bird, the location of the nest and how many eggs it is likely to need to hold can all be a factor. Some birds use their nests just once, while others will return and rebuild it each season and year after year.

Popular nest materials used are:

– Wood, string, cotton, cotton wool and yarn
– Dead leaves, grass and grass clippings
– Sticks and twigs
– Pine needles
– Plant stems, such as hay and straw
– Mud
– Dog, cat and human hair
– Lichen and moss from lawns and rooftops
– Feathers

There is no set way to leave nest materials for your garden visitors. Some people like to place them in a mesh bag or peanut feeder or to leave little piles of it around the garden. You could also place some close to wild bird seed if you provide it. Experiment to find out what works best for the birds visiting your garden.

In addition, it can be nice to make or buy a nest box or two, depending upon the size of your garden. These can be very helpful and will attract a variety of birds, depending upon their size and where they are located. Remember not to place them too near the ground if you have cats or close to supplies of wild bird seed, as feeding stations can get very busy.

Placing a range of feeding stations around the garden will also prove very attractive for wild birds and along with the nesting material may encourage them to build a nest nearby. It can be really fascinating watching the birds come and go.

What Not to Do

As pesticides and fertilizers can cause harm to birds and their young, do not provide any material unless you know where it has come from. Pet hair which has been recently been treated for fleas, or lawn moss and grass that has been sprayed with anything, should not be offered. String, cotton and wool should be provided in short lengths only, as birds can become entangled. Never provide plastic fishing line or string.

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Nest Box Cameras

Nest box cameras provide unprecedented access to the secret world of nesting birds, capturing breathtaking images from inside the nest itself of hatching, nesting and birds enjoying the wild bird seed put out for them. However, a good many bird lovers don’t install a nest box camera because of the perceived technical difficulties. This is a shame as there are some excellent cameras in the market today that come with clear and concise instructions for installation.

Installing a Camera

These cameras are very easy to install. Once you decide to take the step to get more involved with the birdlife in your garden than just putting out wild bird seed, you will discover most kits on the market come with everything required to get the camera installed simply and quickly. It is a good idea to do a test run of your camera in the house to make sure everything is working correctly before venturing outside to get the ladder out. Make sure that the camera kit is fully connected and switched on. A useful tip here is to disconnect every other device connected to your television to ensure the feed itself is working. A good rule of thumb is that if the screen is blue, there will be no feed coming through.

Do I Need to Drill a Hole in My Wall for the Feed?

While nest box cameras offer a fantastic way to watch birds, a minor inconvenience is that, in most cases, you will have to drill a hole in your wall to allow the feed to pass through from the camera to your PC or television. A way of limiting potential damage is to drill through a vent or window frame or even to temporarily run a cable out through an open window.

What Is the Best Way to Protect Cables Outside?

Cables can be protected in numerous ways: by hanging the cable in the air or by laying the cable either on or under the ground. A good way of protecting the cable itself is by using plastic plumbing tubes, which are available in various different diameters and lengths from DIY stores or builders’ merchants. By running the cable through the middle, and securing the length together with masking tape, you will protect it from everyday wear and tear, inquisitive animals and whatever the great British weather can throw at it.

Where Should the Nest Box Be Sited?

Depending on bird species, nest boxes should be sited between 1 and 5 metres above the ground (or between 2 and 5 metres if you have a cat in your garden), and should be situated in a tranquil area in the vicinity or trees, bushes or other protective cover. It is also advisable to make sure the opening of the box is pointing away from direct sunlight.

When Should a Nest Box Be Installed?

Any time is a good time for installing a nest box, though birds will appreciate it if you put a nest box up in autumn and winter to allow them to roost. Suitable nesting sites are sought by most bird species from just after the Christmas period until early spring.

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Which Nest Box is Best?

With different birds attracted not only to the wild bird food put down for them, but also to nest boxes of various sizes and shapes, enticing birds to nest in your garden needn?t be a difficult affair. So which birds favour which nesting box?

Small Nesting Boxes

Blue Tit
This garden favourite requires a small nest box with a 25mm hole or larger, sited between one and five metres off the ground and with a clear flight path.

Great Tit
The great tit fares best in a small nest box but with at least a 28mm entrance hole.

Coal Tit
Slightly smaller than the blue tit, the coal tit requires a small nest box with a 25mm hole.

Marsh Tit
As the name suggests, marsh tits don’t often nest in gardens. If they do, however, they require a nest box with a 25mm entrance hole which is sited close to the ground and certainly no higher than one metre.

Willow Tit
Quite similar to the marsh tit ? in fact very often confused with it ? the willow tit favours a nest box placed between 1m and 5m from the ground.

Large Nesting Boxes

Often mistaken for their smaller cousin, the swallow, swifts require a large box with a good-sized oval entrance hole, sited as high as possible on the side of a building with a clear drop underneath.

Requiring a medium-sized nest box with a 45mm hole, these bright, iridescent birds prefer to nest at least 2.5m above the ground.

Little Owl
The smallest of the UK?s owl species, and about the same size as a starling, the little owl requires a large nest box with a decent-sized entrance hole.

Open-Fronted Nesting Boxes

The most easily identified of our native birds prefers to nest under the protection of dense overhanging vegetation. The entrance to the small open-fronted box favoured by the robin should ideally be 100mm high at the front.

Pied Wagtail
Like the robin, the pied wagtail requires a small open-fronted box that is 100mm high at the front. They are happy to nest higher, however, and a nest box can be sited for them up to 5m from the ground.

Spotted Flycatcher
With its numbers dwindling, seeing a spotted flycatcher is a rare treat. These elusive birds require a small open-fronted box, 60mm high at the front and sited between 2m and 4m above the ground.

As previously stated, nest boxes should always be placed well away from feeding stations or any wild bird food that has been left out.

You can view our full range of nesting boxes by clicking this link

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Essentials for Your Nest Box

Whether your nest box has been lovingly handcrafted or bought from a WildBirdDirect, following a few simple tips when positioning and maintaining it will ensure it lasts well into the future.

Where to Site Your Nest Box
It is important to carefully consider where you site your nest box. The main priority is to provide a comfortable, safe environment for birds, so they are able to nest as successfully as possible.

Your nest box should be secured so it is sheltered from rain, direct sunlight and wind. Factors such as atmospheric conditions are considered far more important than having your nest box facing in a particular compass direction.

Even the most compact of gardens will have sufficient space to site a nest box, with more expansive gardens having enough space for perhaps two or even more. It is worth remembering, however, that nest boxes designed for the same species of bird should not be placed too close together. Some are very territorial and this will most certainly lead to disputes between neighbours.

Always remember to ensure the nest box is secured either vertically or with a slight tilt forward from the top to keep out the rain.

Take care to make sure that squirrels and cats cannot easily access the nest box. This can be hard to do, so if you are concerned you may wish to purchase some special metal plates that fit around the box entrance. These work to effectively protect the box from such predators. The plates are inexpensive and available from good garden centres.

Nest boxes with small holes designed for smaller birds, such as the great tit and the blue tit, should ideally be placed on a tree trunk between one and three metres from the ground. Ensure leaves or other foliage do not conceal the entrance hole. If you do not have access to a suitable tree, you could fix the nest box to a wall or garden shed instead. Open-fronted boxes used by robins, spotted flycatchers and other similar species should be located on fences or walls where there is plenty of shrubbery to hide them. It is important to be able to reach nest boxes easily when the time comes to clean them out.

Nest boxes should not be placed too close to bird tables, feeding stations or wild bird food supplies. Supplying wild bird food for your garden visitors is very important, but too much activity next to a nest box may disturb nesting pairs.

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Providing Nesting Boxes for Garden Birds

Nest boxes are a great alternative to natural nesting sites such as holes in mature trees. Hole-nesting birds often struggle to locate suitable places to nest, especially in towns and cities. So if you are putting wild bird food out in your garden, it is also a good idea to provide a nest box or two.

More than sixty species of wild bird are well known for using nest boxes, including nuthatches, tawny owls, robins, house martins, kestrels, tree and house sparrows, pied and spotted flycatchers, great and blue tits and starlings. Different types of box and locations will attract different species.

When deciding what type of nest box to use, it is important to consider which birds are most in need of assistance. For example, in recent years there has been a significant decline in the numbers of starlings and house sparrows.

It is possible to buy a variety of nesting boxes, but many people like to try their hand at making their own. Any sheet or plank of non-CCA pressure-treated wood can be used. It should be waterproof and approximately 15mm thick. As natural nest holes are never standard, dimensions do not need to be exact. However, depending upon which species the box is intended to house, the entrance hole will need to be between 25mm and 140mm and must sit at a minimum of 125mm from the nest box floor to prevent chicks falling out or being picked up by cats. Larger boxes should be used for bigger birds such as great spotted woodpeckers. Make sure the inside of the nest box is rough, so that young birds are able to climb out when they are ready. Also, remember to drill holes in the bottom of the box to allow for drainage. Leaving the box untreated will ensure it weathers quickly, blending into the environment. Only treat nest boxes with preservatives that are clearly marked as safe for birds and other animals.

If you are building a nest for a woodpecker, it is best to fill it with balsa wood, wood chips or a chunk of rotten log. This allows them to excavate the nest cavity themselves.

Never nail down the lid as doing so will prevent cleaning ? a necessary job which should be carried out in the autumn. Instead, attach a hinge or leather strip and use a catch to fasten it down.

If you want to attract a specific type of bird, it may help to purchase wild bird food that the species is known to have a preference for.

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Barn Owl Nest Boxes

For people wanting to attract barn owls to nest, it?s worth remembering that although you will obviously not have to worry about putting out wild bird seed, barn owls will require a unique set of requirements to be met if they are to use the box you have set out for them.

There are three common types of nest box suitable for barn owls. These are designed to be sited inside buildings or to be attached to trees. There is also the type that can be set on high places such as telegraph poles. Of the three, so-called pole boxes are the least favoured and should really only be used when the other two are impractical.

Choosing a Nest Box Design

Unlike smaller birds, barn owls are primarily interested in small openings in which they can find space to raise their young rather than actual boxes themselves. The will seek a suitable ?hole? in which to do so. Therefore it is vitally important to make sure the entrance to the nest box is visible from open ground, or if it’s sited within a barn or outbuilding that it can be easily seen by an owl as it enters the building. If you are placing a box on a tree, make sure you choose one with an exposed trunk, making the entrance to the box clearly visible and enticing to a passing owl.

Nest Boxes for Buildings

These are traditionally placed in farm buildings (encouraging nesting owls to keep the local rodent population in check) but can be sited in almost all tall rural buildings. The design is relatively simple, and there are various online resources available giving detailed plans for its construction by those with very basic carpentry skills. Alternatively, ready-made nest boxes are available for purchase from popular sites which sell everything from nest boxes and bird tables to wild bird seed and nest box cameras.

Nest Boxes for Trees

Boxes designed for use on trees are similar to those used in outbuildings but must be made from treated materials and with a more robust construction as they are exposed to the elements. A feature common to both is a deep-sided design to prevent owlets from accidentally falling from the ?nest?, which is a common problem with this species. Outdoor boxes of this kind are not only suitable to be fixed directly to tree trunks, but can also be secured within the larger branches ? as long as the owl is afforded a clear flight path into the box. In contrast to smaller bird species, you should avoid fixing a barn owl nest box to the exterior of a house or to any sheer surface that an owl would find impossible to climb. The most suitable site is a rough-barked tree such as an oak or chestnut.

Pole Boxes

Due to the expense of erecting and maintaining a pole box, they are only really used when there are no suitable positions to site a box within a building or wood. For obvious reasons, they should never actually be sited on a functioning electricity or telegraph pole. They should be put on a separate pole which is erected by a contractor.

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WinterRobinAs the weather cools, we tend to increase the amount of time we spend indoors, wrapped up warm and with the central heating turned on. Wild birds don’t have this luxury and as the temperatures drop to freezing or below, they really do have to use their survival skills to get through.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the cold itself that birds struggle with. Covered with numerous layers of down, they are very nicely insulated. And birds that have recently migrated to the UK from the Arctic will find the conditions pleasantly mild in comparison.

The real problem that wild birds encounter during the winter months is finding enough food to ensure they can build up and sustain the fat supplies necessary to keep them going. The birds have even more difficulty in snow and ice, which prevents them from being able to find natural foods, or for water birds, forces them away from rivers and lakes.WinterBlueTit

Garden feeding stations, with regular supplies of high-energy wild bird seed and accessible fresh water, can prove a lifeline for birds. Areas where the weather is milder and food is easier to find will see a rise in numbers of birds. Those with feeding stations in their gardens may see an increase in the number of greenfinches, chaffinches and other small birds frequenting them, attracted by wild bird seed, scraps and other nourishing treats.

Birds may change the way they behave during very cold weather. It becomes a delicate balancing act between conserving precious energy and eating adequate amounts of food sufficiently quickly. In the winter, goldcrests, blue tits and other small birds must consume about 30% of their body weight during daylight hours in order to ensure they have enough fat reserves to last them overnight. Jays and other hoarders get ready for winter in autumn by preparing stashes of food they can return to.WinterBlueTit2

Many types of wild bird instinctively group together when the weather is bad. By cuddling up with each other at night, often on top of centrally heated buildings, they can conserve that all-important body heat. Staying together also gives them a greater chance of finding food.

Placing a feeder in your garden will make a big difference to birds in your area. Providing some wild bird seed and fresh water each day will attract an array of birds for you and your friends and family to observe and have fun identifying.

For Free Feeding Advice Contact us today on 01469 577007 to place your order.

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Are Garden Birds in Decline?

There will always be variations in wild bird populations throughout the year. This is because different species respond to natural events, such as the weather, in different ways. However, there does seem to be a pattern of decline, for which there are various reasons.

The cold is one of the biggest problems for birds. The resulting lack of food can lead to starvation, especially for the smaller species such as robins, blue tits and wrens. The availability of food in May and June then has an effect on the numbers of chicks surviving to fledge.

Another example of how weather conditions can influence bird numbers is seen in the blue tit population. Blue tits require a source of moth caterpillars in order to successfully raise a brood. However, unless spring proves dry and sunny, the supply of caterpillars can be low, with the knock-on effect being reduced breeding success.

On the other hand, blackbirds need wet weather to encourage earthworms to venture up to the surface. Dry, warm weather will dry out the soil and force the earthworms deeper underground, beyond where the blackbirds can reach them. With limited access to earthworms, feeding their chicks can be difficult.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which different birds react to different conditions. Poor breeding one year will obviously have an impact on the numbers of birds the following year. It can then take two or three years for a recovery to occur.

Often people may notice that they are getting fewer smaller species of bird in their gardens, which instead may be dominated by larger birds such as magpies and pigeons. This is due to the fact that magpies and pigeons are better able to adapt to changing conditions than some of the smaller birds. They can also intimidate other birds, which will go then elsewhere rather than compete for wild bird seed from feeders and tables or natural food stocks.

Sparrows, especially house sparrows, have been declining rapidly in number across many areas of the UK. This is believed to be the result of some significant changes in farming methods. It is thought there may be 60% fewer house sparrows today compared to numbers recorded in the 1970s. As this particular species of sparrow is one of just a few types of bird happy to live near people, this is now considered an issue of extreme concern. Research indicates that it may again be down to lack of suitable food, and people are encouraged to put out year-round supplies of wild bird seed to help counteract the problem.

Fewer swallows are also being recorded in the UK. It would appear that this decrease in their numbers is due to changes in their natural breeding grounds. As older buildings are modernised or converted, sites suitable for nesting become harder for swallows to find. The decline may also be affected by the diminishing availability of insects which swallows feed to their chicks.

There are many ways people can help to halt the decrease in wild bird populations. Making gardens more wildlife friendly is one way. Offering food such as wild bird seed all year round is another.

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