Bird Baths and Cats

We have a new Bird Bath.

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Juvenile Blue Tits discovering the new bird bath

10 years ago, our youngest daughter rescued a feral Kitten with a badly gashed stomach. A vets fee and some pleading eyes were involved and we became the owners of a second cat, along with several guinea pigs, hamsters, one eyed rabbits, one eared rabbits, an assortment of chickens and our beloved Bag Puss of cat, Charlie. Our doodle less Labradoodle, Archie came into our lives 2 years later.

LollyPop

LollyPop, Lolly for short, took some taming, being a previously feral cat, he had been used to catching his own dinner – mainly flies and rodents and I am sure some birds too. Lolly drank from the bird bath, then having deterred any thirsty feathered friends, he sat on top of the bird table, basking in the sun, surveying his kingdom below.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove – they came to the UK in the 1950’s

We gave our stone bird bath away, followed shortly after by the bird table and replaced it with a multi armed pole for hanging nuts and seeds from. But we really missed watching birds drink and splash around whilst bathing in the bird bath.  We were ever mindful of Lolly during the day but he was not an indoor cat, if we tried to contain him at night, he made sure sleep wasn’t an option for any of us. Having slept all day himself, he only wanted a night on the tiles.

Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon having a thoroughly good wash

A neighbour once reported that she saw Lolly fillet a pigeon and eat the lot. In the UK we have 5,400,000 breeding pairs of Wood Pigeon. They eat seeds, nuts and berries, cabbages, sprouts, shoots and buds wether asked to or not. They cause irritating damage in my veg garden, but they do clean up fallen bird seeds, which the smaller birds chuck out of the feeders.

Drying off after a thoroughly good wash

Wood Pigeon drying off

A report by The Mammal Society who carried out a study on predation from domestic and feral cats has been widely reported in our press and mainly against cats. However, for this post, I have read it again and was surprised to read that cat owners reported less predation if they owned a bird feeder.

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

Family of Blue Tits on feeders

From the RSPB website, who offer a balanced view – “The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.”

On balance the RSPB say –

“Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.”

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot.

Chaffinch with chaffinch viral papilloma on foot, although not life threatening

The RSPB add “Gardens may provide a breeding habitat for at least 20% of the UK populations of house sparrows, starlings, greenfinches, blackbirds and song thrushes four of which are declining across the UK. For this reason it would be prudent to try to reduce cat predation, as, although it is not causing the declines, some of these species are already under pressure.”

“Cat predation can be a problem where housing is next to scarce habitats such as heathland, and could potentially be most damaging to species with a restricted range (such as cirl buntings) or species dependent on a fragmented habitat (such as Dartford warblers on heathland).”

Succsesful landing

Succsesful landing by Juvenile Blue Tits

Its recommended by some wildlife organisations for cats to wear a bell on their collars to give prey a fair chance of escape. But I have to confess we did not do that, Lolly didn’t wear a collar at all, as I had a fear the collar would catch on a branch and he would end up strangled.

Lottie with Lolly

Collarless Cat

Then this Spring Lolly died and we were all very sad, especially my youngest daughter who had rescued him all those years ago. I bought a new bird bath from the RSPB, made of resin and very cleanable but a bit too deep, they recommend 2 inches of water otherwise small birds may drown, so we put some large stones in the bottom. If any birds poop in the water and thats mainly pigeons, the bath is easy to clean out.

Archie

Archie, who prefers sticks to wildlife

Now we do not have a menagerie of pets any more, just Archie, who is is easy going but does attempt to chase the odd squirrel. We encourage as much wildlife to our garden as we possibly can and I do not think we will have another cat but for the time we had Lolly here, he was much loved and he is missed.

Wildlife Wednesday – Looking Back at Our February Garden Visitors

Tina Huckabee hosts a monthly Wildlife meme on the first Wednesday of each month on her lovely My Gardener Says blog. I took part for the first time in January and am just as happy to be able to take part again, this time looking back at the wildlife visiting our garden in February. A month of mixed temperatures, with cold snow, heavy rain and howling winds and then some sunny days rising up to 11c. A wide range of birds, some regulars, some occasional visitors and for the first time a female Black Cap dropped by too, plus a few displaying some unusual behaviour.

Two Starlings - a mature bird and a juvenile

Two Starlings – a mature bird and a juvenile

Running at a right angle to our east facing dining room window is an enormous Hydrangea petiolaris, its a tough woody, shade tolerant climber that provides shelter and foraging opportunities for many birds. In the colder months we add fat blocks impregnated with mealworms and crushed insects to the bare branches. The smaller Starling is a juvenile, its colouring will change and the bird will grow darker feathers. Both birds will lose their spots as they moult and develop darker sleeker feathers in preparation for finding a mate and the breeding season. Starlings regularly nest in a small gap between our barge boards and roof tiles, but to see a whole flock, we travel further east to the Fens between November and February to watch the murmurations.

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Starling Murmuration at Godmanchester Nature Reserve

Groups of Starlings meet up before dusk, its thought the reason for these gatherings is safety in numbers, predators such as sparrow hawks would find picking off individual birds difficult, to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. Watching a murmuration is an exciting event, many thousands of birds, swirling, soaring and finally as dark descends dropping down from the sky to roost.

Early February snow

Early February snow, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits and female Sparrow,

The month had started with a return to cold snowy weather, a steady stream of birds kept us entertained. The female sparrow was finally joined by a male and increasing numbers of Long tailed Tits came into the garden. This little bird is joyful to watch. The BTO (British Ornithological Trust) reports the success of this little bird and numbers have increased tenfold in recent years, although a very harsh winter could see numbers reduce again.

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

We encourage as much as we can to visit as a garden is pretty soulless without wildlife and the local pheasants have been interesting to watch as they come in looking for seed dropped from the feeders. They are bred nearby for shooting. The season runs from October 1st to February 1st. Foxes eventually take a lot of those not shot, a neighbour reported 12 in his garden last week, we have 4 hopping in and out, a male and 3 females. They are especially partial to a burnt orange primroses……

Male and Female Pheasant

Male and Female Pheasant

Last week we watched as the male decided to try and knock seed from the nyger and mixed seed tubes onto the ground. Where there’s a will there’s a way! This unusual behaviour has been reported to the BTO by other bird watchers too. The large black bird on the right is a Jackdaw, they roost with Carrion Crows and Rooks in the nearby woods, making a terrific din.

Pheasant and Jackdaw

Pheasant and Jackdaw

On February 16th, we went to a talk by our local Wildlife Trust group on macro moths. We learnt so much, including that one brood of Blue Tit chicks can eat up to 15,000 moth caterpillars. Other birds such as Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds also include moths as a food source. The Butterfly Conservation group estimate our Blue Tit population needs 35 billion caterpillars a year. There are 2,500 species of moths in the UK and most can be found in gardens, one small urban garden may be home to 100 species of Moths. As well as being a food source for other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats and birds, they are also a garden pollinator as they feed on plant nectar.

However moths are in decline and the loss has a direct effect on the birds, bats and mammals who depend on them for food. Moth habitat loss is due to intensive farming, changing woodland management and urbanisation. Chemical and light pollution are also reported as having significant effects.

The Butterfly Conservation organisation has an excellent sister site Moths Count and both sites are jam packed with information ranging from identifying tips to citizen science projects.

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Male Chaffinch

This February we have been visited regularly by a male chaffinch, he will like many other birds be pairing up in the Spring. I read that its the female chaffinch who builds the nest, a neat cup shaped nest in the fork of a tree or tall bush made of lichen and spiders webs and inner layers of moss and grass with a lining of tiny rootlets and feathers and when ready will lay 4 – 5 eggs between late April and June. I haven’t seen her in our garden yet but I hope we do and hope she finds a suitable place to build her nest.

It was national nest box week in February and with the increased loss of suitable natural sites, a nest box put up now may still help garden birds to find a home to lay their eggs. The RSPB has a handy guide should you fancy making a nest box yourself. We have a nest box up with a 25mm entrance hole the suitable size for a Blue Tit, Marsh Tit or Coal Tit.

Please take a look at the other folk taking part in Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday.

Happy Wildlife watching!