Our work is driven by a passionate belief that we all have a responsibility to protect birds and the environment. Bird populations reflect the health of the planet on which our future depends.
The need for an effective bird conservation organisation has never been greater. Climate change, agricultural intensification, expansion of urban areas and transport infrastructure, and over-exploitation of our seas all pose major threats to birds.
The RSPB could not exist without its supporters and members. Whether you join us, give a donation, purchase items from us or undertake voluntary work, your support is vital to the future of birds and the places where they live.
A Time for Birds
60 ways to help our birds
Found an injured bird?
Please note that the RSPCA (England and Wales) is the national charity that help and advise on sick and injured birds and animals. The RSPB does not run bird hospitals or a rescue service.
I have an injured bird in my garden, what should I do?
For most injured birds, place them gently in a box and keep them quiet, dark and cool. It may be that the bird is in shock and will soon recover so you can let it go. If it is more seriously injured, this will reduce stress on the bird until you can get advice on how you can help it.
The RSPB does not have bird hospitals or a rescue service because we are a conservation charity. The RSPCA, your local vet or a local animal rescue centre, have the expertise to help and advise you about sick and injured birds and animals.
What should I do with a baby bird that has been abandoned by its parents?
Probably nothing. A young bird alone on the ground has not necessarily been abandoned. The young of many birds will fledge after they grow feathers, but before they are able to fly.
They spend a day or two on the ground before their feather development is complete. It is really best not to interfere. The parents will be close by and come to feed the bird as soon as it is safe.
If the bird is in a vulnerable position it will do no harm to move it into shelter but not too far away as the parents will then be unable to find it. Touching a bird will not make the parents abandon it.
Watch carefully - if the parents dont return and the youngster has definitely been abandoned then please email Wildlife Enquiries using the address on this page for further advice.
Why do some birds in my garden have growths on their feet?
Birds that have growths on their legs are usually suffering from a disease. Avian pox can cause deformed feet in house sparrows, starlings and pigeons. Chaffinches can develop tumours caused by a viral infection.
Bumblefoot, which affects large birds, is caused when cuts become infected and often makes it difficult for birds to perch or walk.
Should I feed a baby bird bread and milk?
No. These are not suitable foods for young birds most of which will be fed on soft insects, worms and grubs in their early days. Scrambled egg, with a little moist cereal, is fine to begin with but more suitable food, for both seed and insect eating birds, is available from pet shops.
If I touch a baby bird will the parents abandon it?
No, birds have little or no sense of smell, but do keep contact to a minimum. It is often easier to pick a bird up by gently covering it with a cloth first.
I have found several dead birds in my garden. Is there something wrong with the food I am supplying?
Not necessarily. There are many causes of birds dying, the most usual being an outbreak of an infectious disease, such as salmonella. If you clean your feeders and birdtables regularly you will help prevent infections from spreading.
If this problem persists, please contact our Wildlife Enquiries team for further advice.
Why are the collared doves in my garden dying?
Sadly, collared doves are one of the main sufferers of a disease called trichomoniasis (canker). It affects the upper digestive tract causing lesions in the birds throats making it difficult to feed and eventually to breathe.
The infected bird may die of starvation or possibly choking. It is not caused by anything that you have done.
However, you can help to prevent it from spreading. The best course of action is to stop feeding for at least a month. Sweep up and dispose of any left over food and, if possible disinfect all feeding areas.
In summer, natural food is plentiful so the birds will not suffer. Your feeding area ought to be free of any infection by the time the birds return, in search of food, at the onset of cooler weather.
In winter, place food in hanging feeders only. Sweep up any that falls to the ground each day, to prevent the spread of disease.
My cat keeps catching wild birds - what can I do to stop this happening?
Giving your cat a collar fitted with a bell or a sonar device will reduce the number of birds it catches. You can buy collars that are fitted with a quick release mechanism that is safer for your cat. Keeping your cat indoors at dusk and dawn, when birds are most vulnerable, will also help.
If you keep your cat well fed, they are less likely to hunt and are more likely to stay close to home which may curb their hunting instincts.
How can I stop birds flying into my windows?
You can fix something to the outside of your windows to stop birds from flying into them. Birds fly into windows because the reflections confuse them. Some see the reflection of trees and the sky and dont realise it is glass. By fixing something to the window you will reduce the reflection and birds are less likely to be confused.
Plastic stickers work well - RSPB reserve shops sell stickers in the shape of bird silhouettes, which are ideal.
Nestboxes for Small Garden Birds
How to make a nestbox
Use galvanised nails or screws. The inside front surface should be rough to allow the young birds to clamber up. A drainage hole should be drilled in the base.
The entrance hole size depends on the species you hope to attract:
25 mm for coal, marsh and blue tits
The same box with the upper half of the front taken away altogether may attract the occasional robin, pied wagtail or wren to nest. Spotted flycatchers prefer an even shallower, open-fronted box.
Softwood boxes may be treated with water-based preservatives such as Fenceguard or Sadolin: apply only to the outside of the box, and not around the entrance hole. Whatever you use, make sure the box dries and airs thoroughly before putting it up.
Where to site a nestbox
Fixing your nestbox with nails may damage the tree. It is better to attach it with wire around the trunk or branch. Use a piece of hose or section of car tyre around the wire to prevent damage to the tree. Remember that trees grow in girth as well as height, and check any fixing every two or three years.
Two boxes of the same kind may both be occupied if they are at the edge of adjoining territories and if there is plenty of natural food. Tits can, however, be very aggressive and seldom nest at densities greater than two or three pairs per acre. If you put up different boxes, you can attract several species.
If there are unhatched eggs in the box, these may be removed legally only between October and January, and must be disposed of.
If you place a small handful of clean hay or wood shavings (not straw) in the box once it is thoroughly dry after cleaning, it may be used during the winter by small mammals or birds for hibernating or roosting in respectively.
The RSPB receives many questions about nestboxes. This page aims to answer some of the commoner ones.
Why are there dead young or unhatched eggs in the box?
Can I see what goes on inside the box?
How can I keep predators away from my nestbox?
Conflicts between species
Why do tits hammer away at the entrance hole?
Why do tits enter nestboxes in autumn and winter?
How can I prevent insects from taking over a nestbox?
Advice on Birdtables
When should a birdtable be used?
A birdtable will be at its most popular and valuable when natural food is in short supply; this usually runs from October-April. At the end of the winter there are natural signs which tell you when you can stop feeding; the appearance of large numbers of insects and the buds on the trees starting to open are good guides.
The birdtable itself can be left in position all year round, but bringing it in out of the weather during the summer will prolong its life. If you wish to continue feeding during the spring and summer, current thinking is that this will cause no harm as long as hard foods are avoided. In particular, make sure that birds cannot take whole peanuts during the breeding season.
Where should it be?
A garden is not essential - a feeding tray can attract birds to a windowsill on a block of flats. Consider the following:
Buying a birdtable
Birdtables are readily available from the RSPB, garden centres, pet shops and specialist mail order firms. Aesthetics aside, when you choose a table consider the following:
Making a birdtable
This leaflet gives you the information you need to build a basic birdtable. A birdtable does not need to be fancy or complicated - the birds are only interested in a good supply of food in a safe, sheltered place.
A metal post, as mentioned earlier, is best to mount your birdtable on as it is impossible for cats and more difficult for squirrels to climb. However, it is much easier to attach the table to a wooden one and you can slide a length of plastic drainpipe over the top to make it unscalable.
The length of the post will depend on whether you intend to drive it into the
ground (allow for about a foot of post in the ground) or make it free-standing
with a cross-shaped base. Either way the table needs to be 4-6 ft (1.2-1.75 m)
off the ground. The best height will depend on the level at which you will be
viewing the table from, the agility of the cats in your neighbourhood and the
height of the person in charge of stocking and cleaning the table!
To hang a table, use screw-in eyes or hooks at each corner and attach lengths of wire or a light metal chain (avoid lines which can be chewed through by squirrels). To stop the table from spinning round, the chain needs to be hung from more than one point, so make loops of the chains at either end of the table and hang it from a horizontal branch (or your washing line). To protect a tree from being cut into by the chain, thread the chain through a section of garden hose.
Birdtables can be fixed to window ledges with angle brackets, chains or angled supports depending on the site.
A ground feeding tray
For those birds that prefer to feed on the ground, a low-level birdtable can be provided. This should be mounted no more than 10 cm off the ground (to allow the grass to 'breathe'), and moved fractionally each time you put out food. This prevents both the build up of droppings in one part of the garden and damage to your lawn. Remember, beware of cats under shrub cover.
The finished table
Once your birdtable is mounted, a few nails or hooks in the edges of the
table will be useful for hanging nut bags or wire baskets for kitchen scraps.
Should there be a roof?
A table with a roof gives some protection to feeding birds (from rain, snow and hunting Sparrowhawks) - with a roof some birds may even use your birdtable for roosting at night. This type of birdtable also provides a dry place for seed hoppers and nut bags. However, a roof can deter the shyer and larger species from visiting and, in most cases, an open one is really just as good.
Cats and squirrels can be a pest on a birdtable. Cats keep the birds away and squirrels devour the food. Although unsightly, four-centimetre wire mesh around the table can stop squirrels eating the food and cats reaching the birds. But it will also keep away larger birds such as thrushes, woodpeckers and jays. An alternative is an inverted biscuit tin fixed at the top of the post supporting the table; this can stop cats and squirrels climbing up and on to the table.
Starlings, House Sparrows, Collared Doves and the Crow family may monopolise a birdtable. An overhanging roof may deter the larger species but you are unlikely to stop these birds feeding altogether. Try providing food in a variety of sites, which should at least give the other birds a chance. Break food such as bread into smaller pieces so that large pieces cannot be snatched away. Place food on the table, on the ground and in a variety of feeders (spreading the food over a wide area also reduces squabbling). Loose food should only be sufficient for daylight hours or vermin may be attracted. If pigeons increase in number, discourage them by containerising all food: high numbers cause problems.
Looking after your table
Once you have completed your birdtable, treat it with a water-based wood preservative, which should dry thoroughly before the table is erected or used. Clean the table regularly, especially if you are feeding all year round. Never allow old food to accumulate, otherwise the food can be contaminated by sick birds, and spread disease. Move the table from time to time to stop the accumulation of droppings. This is obviously easier with a free-standing table. Annual maintenance is best carried out in autumn. Clean the table, re-treat if necessary (remember to leave plenty of time for it to dry), tighten/replace screws and make sure it is still a safe place for birds to feed.
If you are supplying a regular source of food in your garden you should also
provide water. Birds require less water in their diet than we do and some may
obtain all they need from food, but seed-eating birds - which you will be
attracting to your birdtable - have the driest diet and need water the most.
Provide a simple birdbath, such as a dish or a dustbin lid, or dig a pond.
Finally, do take care but carry on feeding your favourite birds and be sure to enjoy them.
Articles reproduced from the RSPB BIRDS magazine
and RSPB website with kind permission
Birds and Water
Many people put food out for birds, but fewer provide a regular supply of clean water. Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Water is particularly important during the winter when natural supplies may be frozen, and in dry weather during the summer.
Birds get the liquid they need from their food, and by drinking. Many insectivorous birds get most of their water from food, while seed-eating birds have a dry diet and they need to drink more. Since birds have no sweat glands, they need less water than mammals. However, they do lose water through respiration, and in their droppings. Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace the lost water.
Water is freely available to birds at all shallow edges of ponds and streams. Woodland birds may drink water droplets on leaves. Aerial species such as swallows and swifts will swoop down onto a water body and scoop up a billful while in flight. Most birds drink by dipping their bill in water and throwing their head back to swallow. Pigeons and doves are able to immerse their bills and drink continuously.
Water to bathe in is equally important, especially in winter. It is essential that birds keep their feathers in good condition, and bathing is an important part of feather maintenance. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes the feathers easier to preen. When preening, the bird carefully rearranges the feathers and spreads oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath.
A good bird bath has a simple, sturdy construction, but is light enough to make it easy to clean and refill. It needs to have shallow sloping sides with a shallow approach to water. Water depth needs to range at 2.5-10 cm (1-4 inches) to allow each species bathe at their preferred depth. The surface of the bath must be rough so birds can grip it with their claws and not slip. It should be large enough to hold sufficient water to withstand a vigorous bathing session by a flock of starlings.
The simplest bird bath is a large dish. A plant saucer with textured finish and a stone in the middle is the easiest. A dustbin lid needs to be either sunk into the ground or supported on stones or posts. If the lid is shiny or slippery, a thin layer of gravel on the bottom (though this makes it more difficult to clean), and a shallow stone in the middle will help birds get to the water in comfort. Concrete baths can be made by digging a hole of the desired size and shape, and lining this with concrete. Once the concrete has set, the bath can be removed, trimmed, and placed in the final location. If you prefer a custom made bird bath, these are available from the RSPB, many specialist suppliers, and from garden centres.
The location of your garden and the type of vegetation immediately around it will determine what birds will visit your bird bath, and in what numbers. Siting of the bath is very important - birds will only use it if they feel safe. Birds get excited and pre-occupied about bathing, and tend to be more vulnerable than at other times. Birds will need to have clear visibility as they bathe, nearby bushes or trees to provide cover if alarmed, and perches to use when preening. Ensure cats cannot use the cover to attack bathing birds. This can be done, for instance, by placing a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose or pyracantha, beneath the bushes. Try placing the bath at different points around the garden to find the most popular site.
During droughts birds will try to use water barrels or drinking troughs. Sadly, many drown. If these containers cannot be covered, they can be made safer if a plank of wood or a branch is placed in the water so that birds can land, drink and even partially bathe in safety.
Keeping water clean
Feeding Garden Birds
A MORI poll conducted in 1994 showed that 50% of adults in Britain fed birds in their gardens, and by 1996 this figure had increased to 67%. With this growth in the popularity of feeding birds, it is more important than ever that we do so responsibly and safely.
By following a few simple guidelines we can all play a valuable role in helping the birds that visit gardens to:
What birds to expect
In more wooded areas you may be lucky enough to see great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and coal, marsh and long-tailed tits. Look out for blackcaps, too they are becoming common visitors to some birdtables in winter. All thrush species fieldfare, redwing, mistle and song thrushes and blackbirds visit gardens for fruit and berries. Feral ring-necked parakeets visit birdtables in south-east England and are spreading west and north. Magpies and black-headed gulls often pirate food from small birds. You may also see sparrowhawks and kestrels in search of prey.
Insect-eating birds, such as wrens and treecreepers are unlikely to visit birdtables, but for treecreepers food can be pushed into cracks in bark and for wrens put beside an ivy-covered wall, a stump or along a hedge bottom. Goldfinches are attracted to seedheads of plants such as teasel, and the seed supply can be augmented by refilling the seedheads with niger seeds, which they love. Yellowhammers have also started to feed at some bird tables put prefer mixed seeds to kitchen scraps.
When to feed wild birds
Autumn and winter
Spring and summer
What food to provide
Bird seed mixture
Black sunflower seeds
Mealworms and waxworms
Household items suitable for birds:
Peanuts and aflatoxin
Aflatoxin is a poison produced by a soil fungus, which can occur on peanuts in their country of origin. It is a very powerful toxin, which is harmful to many living organisms, including people and birds. It can cause liver cancer, brittling of bones and a breakdown of the natural immune system. Unfortunately, aflatoxin can only be detected by chemical analysis. Tests for aflatoxin are carried out both in the country of origin, and by port health authorities and importers themselves in the UK, and there are strict legal maximum limits permissible in nuts for human and animal consumption. Certain hot and humid conditions are needed for the fungus to grow and produce the toxin. These conditions do not exist in Europe. Therefore, once nuts have reached the UK, and have been certified free of aflatoxin, it is extremely unlikely that they would develop the toxin later.
Although consignments of peanuts found to contain aflatoxin are normally destroyed, some unscrupulous importers may try to sell them as bird food. It is advisable to buy nuts only from a reputable dealer, who can guarantee that the nuts are free from aflatoxin. Do not buy very cheap peanuts if the seller cannot guarantee their quality, as there is a greater risk that the are harmful. The RSPB believes that nuts fed to wild birds should be at least human quality, but it would be preferable to source nuts that are certified nil detectable for aflatoxins. The RSPB insists on 'nil detectable' standard on our own brand nuts. Many of the main birdfood companies use this as their quality standard.
If the nuts look dusty or mouldy and smell musty you are advised not to buy them. Although this would not indicate aflatoxin contamination, the nuts would clearly not be suitable as foodstuff. Nuts rejected from the processing plants (broken nuts, those with a wrinkled skin looking cosmetically unattractive, and sweepings) are often sold as birdfood, and are perfectly acceptable.
Although aflatoxin is always a potential hazard, the current safeguards and the vigilance of the public seem to be preventing a problem at bird feeders. The last confirmed cases of aflatoxin poisoning were around 1990.
Garden birds are practically unable to metabolise salt, which in high quantity is toxic, affecting the nervous system. Under normal circumstances in the wild, birds are unlikely to take harmful amounts of salt. Never put out salted food onto the bird table, and never add salt to bird baths to keep water ice-free in the winter.
Feeding in the breeding season
It is nowadays considered that it is alright to feed birds throughout the year. Temporary food shortage can occur at almost any time of the year, and if this happens during the breeding season, extra food on the bird table can make a big difference to the survival of young.
Birds time their breeding period to exploit the availability of natural foods, in the case of blackbirds and song thrushes, earthworms; in the case of tits and chaffinches, caterpillars. It is now known that if the weather turns cold or wet during the spring or summer months, severe shortage of insect food can occur, and if the weather is exceptionally dry, earthworms will be unavailable to the ground feeders because of the hard soil.
If food shortage occurs whilst birds have young in the nest they may be tempted by easy food put on birdtables to make up the shortfall in natural food, initially to feed themselves, but if the situation gets bad enough, they will also take the food to the nest. If the food offered on bird tables is not suitable for the young chicks, it can do more harm than good, and can even be lethal to the chicks as they can choke on the food. It can be difficult for a human to gauge when food shortage in the wild occurs, and hence it is best not to put out food that is likely to create problems during the breeding season. Therefore, never put out loose peanuts, dry hard foods, large chunks of bread, or fats during the spring or summer months.
Safe foods are:
Caring for the Birds in your Garden
Our well intentioned efforts, as we feed birds in winter, can be fatal for some birds, if we are not careful. But we can easily keep them safe.
A sick bird in the garden is often easy to spot. It will probably be 'fluffed up', weak and lethargic. It may linger close to a bird table or feeder, making pitiful attempts to feed for a few days before it finally disappears.
Identifying the reason for such ill-health is, however, much more difficult. No wild creature voluntarily presents itself for examination by a vet and the chances are that a cat or other predator will have spotted a sick and vulnerable bird long before we do. That is what predators do.
So there is little information about the causes of death and, disease in wild birds. New research by James Kirkwood, of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, suggests that feeding by people is one important factor in the spread of fatal bacterial disease in garden birds.
The former head vet at London Zoo, Kirkwood has made post mortem investigations of bird carcasses in 50 outbreaks of disease, affecting anything from a few individuals to dozens of birds. Green-finches were the most commonly affected birds, but house sparrows, chaffinches and bullfinches were also involved. The incidents occurred mostly in winter.
Affected birds were thin, despite having crops full of undigested food. They were infected with the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium and had been unable to digest food because of abscesses which damaged the crop lining.
The bug is spread in the droppings of affected animals. Kirkwood has evidence that the risk of transmitting the disease is related to the intensity of artificial feeding. It occurs in gardens where large amounts of food is put out and more often in small towns than cities, as gardens there attract large numbers of birds from surrounding countryside.
It has been estimated that 15,000 tons of peanuts are put out for birds in British gardens each year.
Artificial feeding can mean the difference between life and death during a harsh winter. So how do we continue feeding garden birds without exposing them to the risk of infectious disease?
Planting your Garden for Birds
Birds require food, cover and nesting sites to survive. Careful choice of plants and provision of other features such as ponds, will help you create a haven for wildlife in your garden.
The more varied you can make your garden, the better it will be for wildlife. Inclusion of shrubs, a hedge, climbers and trees will create habitats to suite many different birds. Herbaceous plants and a lawn are other valuable features, as is a garden pond.
Choose a selection of shrubs and trees that provide insect food and berries or fruit for as long period as possible. Inclusion of thorny plants and some evergreens provide shelter and safe nesting sites.
Below are listed some of the useful, trees and climbers for a wildlife garden.
Alder Alnus glutinosa or non-native A incana and A
cordata are suitable for damp or wet sites. The cones attract Siskins,
Goldfinches and Redpolls in winter. Alders produce long
hanging catkins in early spring.
Barberry Berberis species have spiny branches which provide
good cover, and have bright red fruit and foliage in the autumn or blue-black fruit in
summer. Berberis aggregata, B gagnepainii, B vulgaris, B
stenophylla and B thunbergii are all suitable for small gardens, B
wilsoniae is ideal. B darwinii has evergreen, holly-like leaves and orange
Firethorn Pyracantha is a thorny shrub that provides good
cover and produces masses of white flowers in May. The handsome show of berries in
autumn/early winter is very popular with birds. Varieties that produce red berries are
best for birds. It can be grown as a hedge, or against a wall or a fence.
Climbers and Ramblers
Cornflower Centaurea cyanus (annual).
The fruit and seeds of common weeds, such as chickweed, coltsfoot, dandelion, groundsel and sowthistle are favoured by Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches; nettles by Bullfinches. ‘Weeds’ also harbour insect food for birds.
The seed heads of lettuce and lemon balm attract many birds, especially Goldfinches. The flowers of goldenrod Solidago canadensis (in autumn) and hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum (in July) are attractive to insects which, in turn, are food for birds
The Lawn and Rockery
Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins and Starlings will spend much time, especially in spring, on mown lawns in search of earthworms and other invertebrates. Worms continue to be available until the surface dries out in late summer. The lawn is also a source of small flies for Dunnocks, Pied Wagtails, Chaffinches and even Blue Tits. In rural areas a Green Woodpecker may visit the lawn or rockery in search of ants. A rockery may also harbour snails that provide food for Song Thrushes an dry summer weather.
A pond, even a small one, is a valuable place where birds and other wildlife can drink, bathe and, in some cases, feed. A sizeable pond in the garden may attract Moorhens, Pied Wagtails (and even Grey Wagtails in winter) and, if there are fish, a Grey Heron or even a Kingfisher. Dragonflies, frogs, toads and newts often breed in garden ponds too.
Bird Watching as a Hobby
Bird watching is a hobby which quickly becomes a habit, with the rare merits of being simple to indulge, satisfying and healthy.
In the beginning, you require nothing more than a sharp eye and an enquiring mind. As you go on, you will need more equipment - binoculars, notebooks and waterproof clothing, perhaps even a camera or telescope. Common sense will soon teach you the basics of field craft - how to move without being seen, how to make use of cover, how to approach birds without alarming them. From the initial satisfaction of being able to name different species correctly, you can progress to understanding their behaviour, or to spotting rarities. From making lists of birds that you have seen, you can move on to studying one species in detail, or even one individual within a species. The better you understand the lives of birds, the more you will find that their lives enrich your own.
The keys to success in bird watching are stealth, patience and quietness - in short, the ability to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible. Some birds, of course, are more easily alarmed than others: birds in towns, for instance, are generally much easier to come close to than their counterparts in the country, simply because they are more used to the presence of human beings. But wherever you are, remember that any sudden noise or movement - the crack of a dry branch underfoot, the unexpected raising of a hand - can easily frighten birds away. By making the best use of hedges, shrubs, shadows and other forms of cover, and by moving at a steady pace, you can frequently come close to even the shyest birds. The clothes you wear may also help to conceal you, so always choose quiet colours and make certain that your clothes are warm, well-fitting and weatherproof.
To become a really proficient bird watcher it is important to keep a field notebook, and to keep a logbook at home in which to write up your notes in greater detail. Your notebooks will soon become an invaluable memory bank and a fund of knowledge.
When you spot an unfamiliar bird, make a quick sketch, however rough, of its silhouette, and note down around the sketch as many features as possible of its plumage, anatomy and behaviour. Every entry in your notebook should also include the date when the bird was seen, the place, the time of day and the weather conditions. Give details of other species seen at the same time - how many there were, whether they were male or female and so on.
At the end of the year, check through your notes to see if they are worth sending to your local records committee.
The best way to make contact with other bird watchers is to join your local bird watching society. These societies (Your local RSPB for instance) often organise weekend excursions to nature reserves and sanctuaries and also have films, meetings and lectures presented by experts. These meetings are excellent opportunities to discuss any problems you may have with bird identification or understanding individual bird behaviour, as well as for gaining advice on the purchase of equipment.
Above all, enjoy your hobby, you will meet many friendly people from all walks of life, will see many out of the way beautiful places and you will begin to notice many other species of wildlife - as well as birds - that most people will pass by.
Starting to Watch Birds
There can be many pitfalls for the aspiring 'newbie' to birdwatching, click here to read a short article about your Web Author's particular experiences when starting this wonderful hobby.
Each kind of bird lives in a particular habitat. Often, it is obvious.
Kingfishers need water; Woodpeckers need trees; Geese need grass. But it can be much more subtle.
Being 'in the field' means looking at the real thing rather than books and television programmes or museum specimens.
Fieldcraft simply describes the way you watch birds, get close to them and leave them undisturbed -without damaging the habitat or spoiling things for other people.
One of the first rules is that the well-being of the bird always comes first. Resist the temptation to get just too
close, so that you scare the bird away. Don't disturb high-tide wader roosts or feeding flocks of wildfowl, or keep parent birds from nests. But don't get too paranoid about it - many birds are disturbed dozens of times a day, such as
Pigeons in a town square or Sparrows in the garden. A way to reduce disturbance is to use good
fieldcraft. The way to see more birds and get better views is to use good
At nature reserves, use hides: you can sit quietly and comfortably and look up birds in a book, make notes or eat your sandwiches, without scaring birds away. Remember: even if birds can't see you, they have good ears. Keep quiet!
Find your own places to watch birds. You quickly discover the best spots: muddy pools, edges of ponds, clearings in woods, old hedgerows. Look along ditches, along hedges, even along footpaths. If you are on a path that crosses a stream, look both ways quickly and quietly: you never know when you might get the best view of a Kingfisher you will ever have.
Always be aware of movement. Good birdwatchers spot birds quickly because they see movement, even in the corner of an eye, and look. Nine times out of ten it might be a waving leaf, but now and then it will be a bird, maybe something really good.
When you're out for a walk, don't stare straight ahead. Look sideways, behind you (birds often wait until you are by then make a dash for the other side), up and down. Look up when you see a shadow: it could be a Buzzard flying over! Look and listen, all the time. Well, you can pick a blackberry now and then, or sit down for a rest, or look at a guide, but you can bet this is exactly when a great bird flies by.
Most books say the best way to learn is to go out with an expert friend. You don't have an expert friend? Nor do most of us! Try learning the birds yourself: it is harder but more satisfying in the end. Things stick in the mind much more once you have worked them out.
Follow up every bird noise and see what makes it: link bird and sound and you will remember next time.
Use a good field guide, with paintings not photographs, for a start. Look at the bird, look at the book, look back at the bird - most of all, don't jump to conclusions. Don't find the first picture that seems about right and assume it is that. Check the text, check the map.
At least 9,999 out of every 10,000 birds you see will be common ones, in the right place, at the right time of year. If you keep seeing Cuckoos in December, Golden Eagles in Wales or warblers in fields, you might just be on the wrong track. Think again.
Keep the guide book with you, so you can constantly refer to it while watching the bird - most books tell you not to, but it is much the best way. How else will you know the crucial thing to note was the colour of the outer tail feather? Once the bird has gone, it is too
late: keep your eye on the bird as much as you can, but use the book sensibly to be sure that you are getting the identification right.
Advice for Disabled BirdwatchersBirdwatching is a pastime that can be enjoyed by everyone. This article gives some practical advice to birdwatchers with special needs.
As birds are all around us, you dont need to go far to enjoy them. Watching birds from the window, wherever you are, can provide hours of pleasure and interest. If you have a garden, there are many ways to attract more birds to it and bring them closer to your window.
There are many nature reserves, country parks, forests and other open spaces throughout the UK, which are excellent for birdwatching. While it is definitely worth making the effort to visit reserves and accessible areas of countryside on foot or in a wheelchair so you can enjoy them to the full, dont forget that you can do a lot of good birdwatching from a car or public roads. You can identify places where this is possible by looking at large-scale maps such as those in the Ordnance Surveys Landranger series, or by consulting the many publications describing good birdwatching sites. And remember, a car can be a very handy hide!
If you have limited arm strength or finger dexterity, consider binoculars with good depth of focus. These minimise the amount of re-focusing you have to do to look at birds at different distances.
Wheelchair users may need support for telescopes and sometimes binoculars. If positioning a tripod in front of a wheelchair is difficult, it may be possible to clamp a mount with a conventional pan-and-tilt heat to the chair itself. There are several ways to do this - for example, you can fix a monopod to the wheelchair arm with jubilee clips.
Car window mounts allow you to watch birds from the car. These mounts are available from most major suppliers of optical equipment.
Learning bird sounds
Local Areas That We Would Recommend for Disabled Birdwatchers
(Note that this assumes transport by vehicle to the area)
The Naming of Plumage
Field sketches and notes can be used for describing the behaviour of birds or the habitat or any other points of interest. If you are going to be able to identify a bird from your reference book its is essential to record all you can in the field. It is very important to get to know the names of all the parts of a bird's plumage so that descriptions of colouring etc., can be easily made and to be able to describe birds which are new to the observer.
Suggestions for Field Notes to Take
The Bird Watchers Code of Practice
Five things to remember:
During cold weather or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly flushing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding. Intentional or reckless disturbance of some species at or near the nest is illegal in Britain.
Whether your particular interest is photography, ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember that the interests of the bird must always come first.
Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats - if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you're too close. And if it leaves, you won't get a good view.
Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbing habitat used by birds.
Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close - a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on the seawall.
Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season. See Birds, habitats and the law (linked from this page) in relation to Schedule 1 species in the UK.
Think about your fieldcraft and behaviour, not just so that you can enjoy your birdwatching, but so others can too.
Respond positively to questions from interested passers-by. They may not be birdwatchers yet, but a good view of a bird or a helpful answer may light a spark of interest. Your enthusiasm could start a lifetime's interest in birds and a greater appreciation of wildlife and its conservation.
Consider using local services, such as pubs, restaurants and petrol stations, and public transport. Raising awareness of the benefits to local communities of trade from visiting birdwatchers may, ultimately, help the birds themselves.
Know the rules for visiting the countryside, and follow them.
Irresponsible behaviour may cause a land manager to deny access to others (eg for necessary survey work). It may also disturb the bird or give birdwatching bad coverage in the media.
Laws protecting birds and their habitats have helped to secure the conservation of many species. They are the result of hard campaigning by generations of birdwatchers. We must make sure that we don't allow them to fall into disrepute.
In England, Scotland and Wales, it is a criminal offence to disturb, intentionally or recklessly, at or near the nest, a species listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Disturbance could include playback of songs and calls. The courts can impose fines of up to 5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to six months for each offence.
It is a criminal offence to disturb intentionally a bird at or near the nest under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
In Scotland, disturbance of capercaillie and ruffs at leks is also an offence.
The government can, for particular reasons such as scientific study, issue licences to individuals that permit limited disturbance, including monitoring of nests and ringing.
It is a criminal offence to destroy or damage, intentionally or recklessly, a special interest feature of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or to disturb the wildlife for which the site was notified. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a fine of up to 20,000 may be imposed by the Magistrates' Court, or an unlimited fine by the Crown Court. In Scotland, the maximum fine on summary conviction is 40,000, or an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment.
If you witness anyone who you suspect may be illegally disturbing or destroying wildlife or habitat, phone the police immediately (ideally, with a six-figure map reference) and report it to the RSPB.
How do I stop Cats from attacking Birds in my Garden?
(from the web author)
A range of relatively simple measures
can be recommended to cat owners and non-cat owners which could help to reduce
the risk of cats catching garden birds, especially where food is being put out
Some other ideas that we have heard!
There is one sure-fire cat deterrent and that is a large dog! A large dog trained to react to the command 'Cat!' will solve all feline problems. All you need to do is open the backdoor and say "Cat!!!" I have never heard of a dog actually catching one so this is possibly the most humane method. Cats will soon learn not to come into your garden
If, like myself, you are an owner of a cat then a collar with a bell is pretty effective. This will not stop a cat hunting - but will certainly reduce the success rate from one a month to, hopefully, none at all.
Try hosing the cat(s) from a hidden point. If they don't actually see you doing it they may associate the garden with an unpleasant drenching, and henceforth avoid it. This does the cat(s) no harm whatsoever ...
An electronic cat deterrent purchased from RSPB shops can be very effective. You would need to use a mains adapter otherwise it will cost a fortune in batteries. Check out your local RSPB reserve centre.
I have heard that Lion (or any other large predator) dung works very well. Any plucky Tom trying his luck in your garden will take one whiff and think 'I am not exactly sure what sort of cat they've got in there, but I don't intend finding out'. Contact your nearest zoo or wildlife park and ask for any spare lion dung.
Annual Survival Rates of Some of our Common Species
The Red, Amber and Green List explained
The UK's birds can be split in to three categories of conservation importance - red, amber and green.
Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action. Amber is the next most critical group, followed by green. Birds in the red and amber lists will be subject to at least one of the relevant factors listed below.
Red list criteria
Amber list criteria
Historical population decline during 1800-1995, but recovering; population
size has more than doubled over last 25 years
Green list criteria
The Birds of the Red List (Species that can still be seen on a regular basis in Southend have been highlighted)
Click here for details of personal guided tours in the Southend area
Click here for a history of the RSPB
Click here for details of the best places to see birds in the local area
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