Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Starlings and House Sparrows

At 5.30 this morning, I looked out of the kitchen window to a scene reminiscent of playtime at the kindergarten. 

It seems that we have more fledgling House Sparrows in the area along with the first Starlings to fledge so far this year. There is so much activity that to count them, either the Sparrows or the Starlings, is impossible. 

The Starlings are all newly fledged, still carrying the fluff on their wings. I would guess that these birds left the nest just this morning or possibly sometime yesterday. 

At the very least there are five young Starlings though I am fairly certain the actual count is higher than that. They will not stay still and keep moving out of my line of vision. One of the interesting facts about Starlings is that they live in social groups and last years young birds will not breed this year. Instead they have a big part to play in the upbringing of this years broods, looking after their welfare and feeding them. 

The Sparrows were simply impossible to count with so many flittering about from place to place.

Although recent national surveys suggest the numbers of both House Sparrows and Starlings to be in decline, they do seem to thrive here. I aim to discuss these birds further in some later posts.

The Garden Birds | Protection from Cats

Following the recent cat attack that ended the short life of one of our young Blackbirds, it was decided that something must be done to help safeguard, as much as possible, our Garden Birds.

Some of the habitat we had created to be of benefit to the birds, had also proved to be a perfect hiding  place for these feline predators.

The most dangerous area has proved to be the bird table, so common in many gardens, but in this case  had actually aided the cat in it's attack on the young bird. The south facing  edge of the roofed table had become his / her  favourite resting place, often sitting there when the sun was shining, no doubt feeling safe from attack. It was the very nature of the table however that allowed the cat to approach from the rear, unseen by the unsuspecting Blackbird.

It seems likely that on this occasion the cat was able to move into a position directly below the bird, then using the central upright of the table (this was evident from claw marks in the wood) launch itself swiftly upwards to take the bird completely by surprise. Although this was the first time we became aware of such an attack, it is quite possible that this was not the first such incident. On inspection there proved to be numerous claw marks on the upright. On reflection I would  say that the table is simply not high enough from the ground. The instant solution to prevent this from happening again was to remove the bird table from the garden. It is my intention to refit the table onto a tall post that I have already installed as part of a trellis fence. In the meantime there are still feeders attached to a metal pole that I am sure is cat proof.

Following this attack, the black cat now considered our garden to be it's own sporting ground and on numerous occasions we would find it laying in ambush beneath the shrubbery on the left side of the garden. Though only small, about 1 metre X 3 metres. this area had been purposely grown somewhat wild with two small Apple trees, a large spread of Bamboo and other large shrubs that I can never remember the names of. And as planned the birds love this area. Young and adult House sparrows hide amongst the branches and shelter beneath large leaves. It also serves as a larder, being home to numerous spiders and small winged insects. Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks and the Blackbirds love to spend time in the darkened depths beneath, rooting in the bare earth, searching out grubs, worms and buried larvae. Much of this foliage is evergreen and so provides year round shelter and refuge.

To discover the cat taking such a keen interest and lying up in this undergrowth was somewhat disturbing and action needed to be taken without delay.

My idea was to use some expanding Bamboo and Willow trellis that we had grown Runner Beans on last year. I placed this beneath the shrubbery in such a way that the birds can easily pass through the diamond shaped openings in the trellis, but would be a tight squeeze for any prowling cat. It seems to work.

As I sit looking out on the garden, writing this draft with pen and paper, a male Blackbird is in that very area feeding one of his youngsters. I feel happy that the garden is now a much safer place for him, his offspring and all of the other Garden Birds.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Black Cat Bad Luck

For at least one of the birds it was a case of Black Cat Bad Luck in the garden earlier this week. This particular large male Black Cat is relatively new to the area, but is making his mark.

The black cat superstitions of bad luck for those whose path it crosses came true for what was possibly one of the young Blackbirds. The youngest of the 2 juveniles had taken to sitting on the edge of the bird feeding table, a relatively safe position, so we thought. Mrs P however looked out of the window in time to see the scary black cat exiting the bird table with a bird secure in it's evil mouth. It then quickly scrambled over the rear garden fence to escape with it's prize.

Yesterday I did see what had appeared to be the eldest of the young Blackbirds but so far there has been no sign of the younger one. This supports our belief that it was indeed the infant Blackbird that had fallen prey to the feline.

This incident may not be an isolated case, but merely the only one that we happened to witness, I hope that is not the case. One thing for certain is that the cat is returning often now to the scene of it's sport. We chase it off any time that we see it but we need to do more to make the garden safer for the birds.

The first action we have taken is to stop using the bird feeding table, a simple platform commonly used to provide the garden birds with the food that they need, but which in this instance proved to be a death trap for the unsuspecting bird.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Garden Birds | Latest Update

Well last week saw plenty of bird activity in the garden, it seemed to be teeming with the usual residents and some of the less common visitors.

First though an update on the babies. We have confirmed that there are in fact 2 young Blackbirds, both along with the adult male are spending lots of time in our garden. There is an obvious difference in size indicating that they hatched at different times, though are from the same nest. The elder of the two is now quite adept at feeding his or her self, scratching in the dirt, pecking and investigating everything it comes across, but is not too proud to accept offerings from Dad. The youngest still seems to be totally dependent on the adult to find food and to feed it.

Starlings seem to be in abundance as do the House Sparrows. Many newly fledged House Sparrows are around, some being tended by the adults while others are already independent.

The Collared Doves are visiting quite regularly and this week I saw a single young bird, first alone and then in the company of it's (I presume) parents.

Wood Pigeons are frequent visitors as usual, the "afternoon couple" still following their normal routine. There is still some nesting activity taking place in the "High Rise" conifer by Wood Pigeons but why do they not wear coloured markers of some description so that I can identify them.

Also seen this week were a pair of Greenfinches that made a brief appearance plus a pair of Goldfinches that have been seen almost every day, just passing through.