It has been something of a slow start to the year and you may well have noticed how behind some of the spring flowers have been. The same is true for birds, with fewer early nesting attempts reported than is usually the case by this time of the year. Following a mild winter I might expect to have heard about 16 or 17 different species with active nests by Valentine’s Day; this year, however, there were just nine and even now things have not really picked up a great deal. Although early nesting attempts often fail, the birds caught out by a return to colder conditions, there are some species that always nest a bit earlier in the year than others. Tawny Owl (recently fledged Tawny Owls are on the wing in Kensington Gardens, London) and Mistle Thrush (a brood of young Mistle Thrushes is being fed in Manchester United Old Trafford stadium) are two for which nesting typically begins early.
For certain other species there are just a few early nesting attempts; these often take place in towns and cities, where it is warmer and where there is food available to help get parents into breeding condition. Interestingly, the urban habitat and in particular the gardens within it, are the one place where we lack a thorough understanding of the size of breeding bird populations. It makes sense really, in that people carrying out surveys of nesting birds can’t very well go and peer into privately owned gardens! This lack of knowledge has prompted the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) to launch a new survey under the banner of Nesting Neighbours and they are looking for householders to keep an eye out for nesting birds.
Of course, finding nesting birds is not always easy. If you have a pair of Blue Tits using your nest box or a family of heavy-booted Starlings in your roofspace then you are likely to know about it. However, you try finding the Greenfinch nesting in one of your conifers or the Dunnock tucked away in a quiet corner. These are just the sorts of nests that the BTO wants to hear about and to help you with your efforts they have produced a wallchart, detailing the different types of nests and eggs and explaining where and when particular species nest. I, for one, will be out there, poking through the Ivy that adorns the end wall and searching through the climbing rose. You can get your free wallchart and survey pack by calling the BTO on 01842-750050 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Make a difference to their work by finding out which birds are your nesting neighbours this breeding season.