Corvids

I am a big fan of corvids and have been wanting to write a post about them for quite a while… so here it is!  I don’t have a particular story to tell, or pet crow to write about (I wish), but just wanted to share some information and my favourite facts about this particular beautiful bird family!

So first things first – which UK birds are actually in the corvid/crow family?

Carrion Crow – An all-black bird that although is known to be fearless, can actually be quite wary of humans – they will however take advantage if food is put out for them in gardens.  They are relatively solitary and can be seen alone or in pairs, but there will be several around in one area as they stay close to their roost.

Chough – A beautiful black crow with a red bill and legs!  They can be found in the west of the British Isles diving and swooping near cliff edges… in fact I saw them for the first time in 2015 around South Stack, Anglesey.

Hooded Crow – The hooded crow is closely related to the carrion crow but they have grey ‘hoods’ and are mainly distributed across in North and West of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  They are more sociable than carrion crows however, so can be found feeding and ‘mixing’ together.

Jackdaw – A small, black crow with pale eyes and a characteristic silvery sheen to the back of their heads.  Jackdaws really make me smile!

Jay – Again, I saw my first jay (that I was aware of) in Anglesey.  They are shy woodland birds and do not move far from the trees.  They are very colourful with mainly pinkish-brown feathers and black-and-white wings, with eye-catching blue patches.

Magpie – A noisy bird, but so interesting to watch!  They can often be seen scavenging together or spread out across a particular area.  Magpies are very distinctive with their black-and-white plumage and long tail, which shines blue, purple and green in the sun.

Raven – Ravens are the largest member of the crow family.  They are all-black like carrion crows but have larger bills and long wings.  I have been told that you probably think you have seen a raven until you actually see one and then realise just how big they really are… and that what you saw in the past was probably just a large carrion crow!  I haven’t actually seen one in real life!

Rook – Rooks have a greyish-white face, thinner beak than a carrion crow and a peaked head.  They are sociable birds, and actually roost and feed with jackdaws.

It is good to know that all eight of these crows are RSPB green listed, meaning that they occur regularly in the UK!

chough© Chough – South Stack, Anglesey – 2015

Corvids are extremely intelligent for their size and are deemed among the most intelligent birds studied.   Some demonstrate self-awareness and even tool-making skills, which I find very exciting!  It’s not surprising though once you know that their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans.  Amazing right!?

FUN FACTS:

  • Corvids are emotional creatures – they show happiness, sadness and anger.  They are also know to react to hunger and danger by vocalising their feelings… much like me!
  • They have brilliant memories and are masters at hiding, moving and storing food in different locations, and remembering where it all is.
  • Crows form huge roosts together where they rest in the evening, but during the day they separate into groups and tend to stay within a particular area around their roost.
  • They build fake nests in their roost to fool predators and make their colony appear bigger!  (This is one of my favourite facts that I like to tell people).
  • Ravens can be taught to speak basic human language!  Check out Mischief the raven!

Do you have any interesting facts or stories about crows that you would like to share?

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Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

Bees

At the end of May, my grandma was lucky enough to find a bumblebee nest in her garden… in the outside wall of her house! This may sound worrying to some, but having become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2016 I was instantly excited and told her not to disturb it.  Bumblebees are harmless and only the females will sting if they feel threatened.  They do not cause structural damage as they use material which is already available to make their nests and they will only live for about 2 to 3 months, meaning nests are empty by late autumn.

It is brilliant being able to watch a living, working bumblebee colony as it is a well-known fact that our bumblebees are in trouble!  There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but many of these such as the Great yellow bumblebee which used to have a wide UK distribution, are now less common and can only found in a few locations.  Around 13 species of bee have been lost since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction.  This decline is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides.  ‘Bees are vital to a healthy environment and healthy economy.  Around 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees – wild bees, not just honey bees – are major players in that job.  Bees also help keep our green spaces flourishing.  That includes gardens, parks and streets, as well as uncultivated areas like woodland, heath and grasslands’ which is why it is important that we must help to save bees and other pollinating insects! You can financially help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in many ways but also physically get involved, perhaps as part of #30DaysWild to show your support.

You could:

  • Attend an event run by the Trust
  • Make a bee-waterer
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and other plants in your garden
  • Become a ‘BeeWalker
  • Or even take part in the Great British Bee Count

The Great British Bee Count has been set up by ‘Friends of the Earth’ and lasts until 30th June this year, so you still have time to take part.  All you have to do is download the free Great British Bee Count app and get counting.  The app will help you identify and record different species, whilst your recordings will help experts build an understanding of species, distribution and how bees are getting on in the UK in general.  Eventually, the information that is collected will be shared with other expert researchers, government ecologists and ‘environmental decision-makers’, even go towards conservation programmes and of course the future protection of our pollinators!

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some brilliant information about how to identify bees and also has some lovely illustrations on their website of the UK’s most common bumblebees.

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© I took this photograph at Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve in 2016.

Have you spotted any rare bees this year so far, or are you lucky enough to have a bumblebee nest in your garden?  I would love to know!

 

Drama On The Peregrine Ledge

It has been an action-packed few weeks for the NTU peregrine falcon chicks.  After spending a week in Dartmoor (me, not the chicks) with little internet access, I returned on May 26th to discover that all four were out of the nest and exploring the surrounding ledge.  Most of their down had been replaced by stunning feathers and they were looking truly beautiful and elegant.

They have since been feeding themselves, flapping their wings, spending more time on their own and out of sight of the cameras, but on June 1st camera one captured something extremely dramatic (and a little bit funny if you keep watching it) which you can view in slow motion here.

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As you can see, one of the chicks attempted to fly and ended up crashing into its mother causing them to tumble off the edge of the building!  Luckily both were fine and the chick landed on a lower ledge.  As the chick had not properly fledged and was unable to fly, it could not return to the nest, however it has been reported that the adults have continued to feed it!  Despite this, I (and I am sure many others) have been a little worried about the chick over the last few days in the rain and wind… and unfortunately I have some sad news.  After following the peregrine falcons throughout the whole nesting cycle, it breaks my heart to announce that earlier today the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust reported that one of the chicks (I am not entirely sure whether it was the one on the lower ledge) had “been killed yesterday on the road below the ledge”.  It is assumed that “it got blown off or lost control of a flight in the ferocious wind we have been experiencing”.  Obviously this is a terrible shame as the four chicks were each doing brilliantly, but it is important to know and remember that less than a third of peregrines actually reach breeding age, so the family have still done very well.  Those peregrines that do reach breeding age are expected to live for 6-13 years, but the oldest known peregrine was over 16 years old!  So let’s keep our fingers crossed for the remaining three!

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All stills taken from the NTU live stream.

It’s Time To Go Wild!

This June, the Wildlife Trusts is once again challenging the nation to do something wild every day for #30DaysWild.  I took part for the first time last year and had a fantastic month full of random acts of wildness, which you can read about here.

Your random acts of wildness do not have to be extreme – they can be small, fun, indoors or outdoors and are simply about experiencing, learning about and helping wildlife.  I have come up with some suggestions which you can use as inspiration.

For sunny days:

  1. Visit a nature reserve and enjoy a walk, bird watching or even bat detecting
  2. Do some wild photography
  3. Go wild in your garden to benefit wildlife
  4. Take time to stargaze on a clear night
  5. Make a bee waterer (using a dish, stones/marbles and clean water) to keep our pollinators hydrated

For rainy days:

  1. Dance in the rain
  2. Make a terrarium
  3. Become a member of a wildlife charity
  4. Write a poem about nature
  5. Learn cloud names and classifications

For days at work:

  1. Hold a fruit and veg cake sale
  2. Watch live wildlife footage on your breaks
  3. Go outside and take a walk at lunch
  4. Take a healthy packed lunch full of fruit and veg (maybe homegrown)
  5. Explore your workplace for plants and wildlife

For the kids:

  1. Camp in the garden
  2. Explore a forest
  3. Go on a bug hunt
  4. Press flowers and leaves
  5. Build an insect hotel

For people who are unable to get out and about easily:

  1. Do a mini garden birdwatch
  2. Watch a nature documentary
  3. Experiment with windowsill gardening
  4. Read a nature book or blog
  5. Do some ethical cooking

If you are feeling inspired and have other ideas of how to be wild for 30 days, you can sign up for the #30DaysWild challenge here.  You will receive a free pack of goodies including stickers, some wildflower seeds and a wallchart to help you plan your month, plus lots more ideas from the brilliant Wildlife Trusts.

Like last year I will be blogging about my #30DaysWild month and would really like to hear what other people do for their random acts of wildness!

Eyas Update

It is week four of the NTU peregrine falcon chicks’ development and I am honestly amazed at how quickly they are growing!  I noticed yesterday that the cameras were off for a while, so knew that it was ‘ringing time’.  It was exciting to later read that the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU Sustainability team had indeed finally ringed the chicks and found out that there are three females and one male!  To ring the chicks, the team waited for the parents to leave the nest and then quickly fitted a small, lightweight, harmless, metal ring around the leg of each eyas.  Ringing birds is essential for bird conservation as it helps provide information about their movements, locations and lifespans.

Some brilliant photographs taken during the ringing process.  (Thank you for these Emily).

The images below are just a few stills from the NTU live stream that I have saved.  Archie and Mrs P have been providing a constant supply of feral pigeons and other medium sized birds for the eyases and as you can see in the fifth image, their crops have been nice and full.  Although one chick is smaller than the others (and has been nicknamed ‘Diddy’ on Facebook) all four are getting their fair share of food… I even caught one of them possibly ‘gaping’ for food whilst both parents were away, which you can see in the sixth image!

On May 13th, I noticed that all four chicks were starting to grow their flight and contour feathers, and yesterday (16th) the new darker feathers were poking through their down quite clearly (image eight).  The chicks may have changed a lot already, but we still have plenty of development to see.  At this stage they have gained a sharp eyesight and are very interested in anything that moves – whether it be a fly or blowing feather.  Their legs are getting stronger and they are a lot more active in the scrape.

In the next week or so, they will lose most of their down apart from a few tufts on their heads (hopefully – for our amusement) and will be showing off their juvenile feathers.  We may see them flapping their wings and before long, in week six, the eyases may fledge the nest for the first time!  They should remain around the nest-site for a few weeks, during which time they will become adept at flying, pursue other birds and capture their own food, but will still rely on their parents for most of their food.  Around August they will leave the nest for good… and I must say that I will certainly miss watching them!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017

This week (30th April to 6th May) is Hedgehog Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Often called the ‘gardener’s friend’, hedgehogs are lovely, harmless creatures, but sadly since the year 2000, “rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period” across the UK.   #hedgehogweek consequently aims to highlight the problems which are causing this decline and suggest ways in which the public can help.

The declining hedgehog population in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different is not simple to explain, as there could be many contributing factors.  Hedgehog Street, “a campaign aimed at ensuring the hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life”, is a fantastic website with information, FAQ’s and tips for helping hedgehogs.

Some simple, instant ways that you can help hedgehogs in your garden are:

  • Ensuring there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping / reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.
  • Piling up some logs in the corner of your garden.
  • Putting out a dish of fresh water in hot weather.
  • Planting nectar-rich plants to encourage insects for hedgehogs to eat.

You can also spread the word about #hedgehogweek by:

  • Holding a fundraising event, such as a cake sale, coffee morning or jumble sale.
  • Displaying information in your work place, school, library, local shop, etc.
  • Writing blog posts about hedgehogs.
  • Following BHPS on Facebook and Twitter and retweeting / liking / sharing information and posts to your page.
  • Taking a selfie with the BHPS #hedgehogweek sign and sending it out via social media using the #hedgehogweek hashtag.

Each year, the week focuses on a different campaign, and this year is the ‘Strimmer Campaign’.  The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has created waterproof stickers to be sent to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc. to remind them to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery.  You can help with this particular campaign by contacting your local council or tool hire shop to ask if they are willing to use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines – if they are, they can then contact BHPS directly on info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

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What are your plans for Hedgehog Awareness Week?

The Fourth Peregrine Chick

As hoped, today was the day that the fourth NTU peregrine falcon chick hatched out of its egg.  I checked the live stream at 13:15 after my sister messaged me about them… and there it was, it had hatched just before 1pm!  The male was feeding the larger chicks a feral pigeon as chick number four (being less than half an hour old) was getting used to the world and its siblings.

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The newly hatched chick and its siblings waiting for food.

After a few minutes, Mrs P returned to the scrape and I just managed to save a still image of the whole family together!  WARNING: Some may find the below image disturbing.

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All four chicks (eyases) are being kept warm and fed and are looking healthy and ‘wide-beaked’ this evening.  Peregrine falcon chicks eat a tremendous amount of food and if all goes well, this time next week they will have doubled their weight and in three weeks, will be ten times their birth size!  I am very much looking forward to following their progress over the next six weeks or so as they rapidly get bigger, grow juvenile feathers and eventually fledge the nest.  Once they start to fly they will depend on their parents for a few further weeks to learn how to hunt, so Archie and Mrs P still have a lot of work to do… and we still have a lot of great things to watch!

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All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

Peregrine Chicks

It has been a busy few days for NTU’s resident pair of peregrine falcons, Archie and Mrs P, as their eggs have been hatching!  The hardworking parents have been incredible to watch over the incubation period, taking it in turns to keep the eggs warm, so much so that I don’t think I actually saw all four eggs together on the live stream! Their first chick hatched around midday on Sunday 23rd April, followed by the second that evening.

fc4

The third chick hatched from its egg at 21:16 on Monday 24th April and all three chicks have since been helping their parents keep the fourth egg warm.

fc1 (1)

At 15:57 on Tuesday 25th April, I noticed what I thought to be a crack/hole in the fourth egg and some movement coming from inside (see image below) before it began sleeting!  Several people on social media also agreed, however the chick is yet to hatch…  I expect (and hope) tomorrow will be the day.

fc2

Archie and Mrs P have both been extremely diligent – I have seen them regularly swapping jobs of hunting and protecting their brood and love the wiggle Mrs P does as she settles down on top of the chicks and final egg.  There has also been a lot of live camera action in terms of feeding, which although can be quite disturbing for some viewers, is a truthful glimpse into the world of these beautiful, wild peregrine falcons.

All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

The Results Are In!

If you remember from My Big Garden Birdwatch Results blog post at the end of January, I took part in the RSPB’s annual birdwatch, and I am sure many of you did too!  The RSPB has been collecting and counting the results from over half a million people over the last couple of months and the results are now available here!

The top 10 birds of 2017:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

Over 8 million birds were counted, with some interesting results.  Goldfinch, blackbird and robin numbers have all increased over the last 10 years.  Waxwing sightings were very high this year (I wish I had seen one) due to “a lack of berries in their native Scandinavia” prompting them to travel to the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland!

Along with the increases though, there unfortunately had to be some decreases!  Surprisingly sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits were all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures.  Also since the first RSPB Garden Birdwatch in 1979, greenfinch, starling and chaffinch numbers have all dropped too (despite the latter two being in this year’s top 10).

The RSPB is a brilliant charity and by running the Big Garden Birdwatch, they not only encourage people to take an interest in wildlife and give nature a home, but also allow us to know and understand which birds are doing well and which are not.  We can then help, take action, monitor and hopefully make a difference!