15 June 2010

cat snacks

The garden provides good habitat for breeding birds, both for those that actually nest here and for those that visit to forage.  The tall trees give height for a quick get-away, dense shrubs give cover for nesting and a wide range of herbaceous plants support the wide range of insects hungry chicks need.  This year wren, blackbird, blue and great tits have all nested in the garden and now fledged chicks are making their first forays out and about.  They leave the nest as soon as they can, the whole brood is vulnerable to predation while in the nest, many predators watch foraging parents to discover the whereabouts of the nest, so splitting up and moving about lessens the chance all will be lost.  The individuals are still vulnerable and yet to learn it is a hard world out there. 
Wrens are shy birds and nest low down in dense cover.  This year they have used a log stack, dense ivy on a wall and a 'twiggy bundle' to build in - twiggy bundles are simply bunches of spiny prunings tied with twine to form a hollow ball, these get tucked into dense shrubs and wall climbers in quiet corners to make predator proof nesting sites.  Young wrens are out and about now, concealed in the bushes and calling with high pitched breathy 'wheesps'.  They and the parents forage eagerly for any small insects and get excited when I give a hand by turning the top layer in the compost bins.  They can be in such a rush that they forget I am a danger until a parent frantically reminds them, with sharp calls to 'run!'  
Blackbirds usually raise a number of broods each year in the garden, building nests from twigs, grass, string and mud in concealed places.  Sometimes they make odd choices where to build - last year they built a nest neatly on top of a paint tin in the tool shed - this year they have been thoroughly conventional using a dense bush of ivy to conceal them.  The young have recently fledged and are out and about, so trusting they will happily wait in the garden office for feeding time.  They follow their parents round the garden calling loudly to be fed - and seemingly to be eaten - the local cats must be drooling at the mouth!  
Blue tits feed their young on thousands of small insects and will collect vast quantities of aphids in the foraging frenzy.  This makes them vulnerable to the effects of pesticides and many young birds are poisoned while still in the nest, so we use no pesticides - aphids are soon controlled by everything that eats them - and everything does.   The parents keep their energy levels up with occasional visits to the feeders for a sunflower seed or two and now the Red Hot Pokers are in flower will drink sugary nectar for a quick energy boost.

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