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Nature Notes

AS YOU READ this you may be just in time to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. This takes place on the same weekend each year – 26 & 27 January in 2013 – and is a vital snapshot of how bird species are doing. This annual survey means any trends can be easily seen and acted upon if necessary.

Feeding the birds has never been more important than during this severe weather.  The help you give them may ensure they survive the winter.  In the severe winter of 1963 half of our birds perished in the freezing weather. Naturalists believe birds learn where food is available and return to these places at the same time each year. The birds bring their young to gardens they have learnt will have food available and so the information is passed on through generations.

As the birds come into breeding condition the feeding you do now will give them the best start.  Of the wildlife that we see in our gardens, birds are capable of the most movement. Many types of wildlife will be born and live their whole lives in a garden and many other birds will choose to feed and nest in our gardens. A suitable nest site, whether natural or ‘artificial’, is just as important for birds as providing food – without one, birds won’t be able to bring up a new brood.

We may think our gardens are separate from our neighbours but to birds they are linked habitats. The size of a garden is not thought to be important, each garden providing a selection of food and habitats. As more land is built on so it becomes vital that areas of garden are not reduced further.

Rural gardens are thought to be even more important than those in urban areas. This is because areas of intense arable farmland are not seen as either food sources or nest sites, and therefore the opportunities for birds and other wildlife are dramatically reduced.  Without gardens many species may no longer exist. There are more ponds in gardens than in the wild; without themEast Angliawould have lost its frogs and toads.

Other birds find our gardens important for food but nest elsewhere. These visiting birds inform us that there are other nest sites available close by. These are the birds that require deciduous woodland and include owls, sparrow hawks, nuthatch and woodpeckers.  Other birds such as pigeons and starlings can be seen flying in flocks over the fields, but only a few of these will visit each garden at a time. On occasions we know birds exist, even though we do not see them. This time of year is when tawny owls start to call to defend their territory, so listen out for them at dusk.

We have had a few rare birds sighted around the village. On the cow meadows a little egret and both barn and tawny owls have been seen. Ginny Brett contacted me to say she had had a long-eared owl in her garden; on advice that these are not native to the UK, the RSPB informed her that it might have escaped from a collection. You may have seen what an eagle owl looks like when Van Hage’s Garden Centre had a resident there.    Janine Wignall

(photographed in Janine’s garden)