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            BIRD NESTING- Nesting birds in the garden


            This is the time of year when a gardener's natural enemies such as ivy and bramble are beginning to burgeon and there is a conflict between keeping control over the garden and preserving an essential habitat for nesting birds. How many of us have fought a losing battle with both ivy and bramble – leaving us with broken backs, fingers and spirit! The answer perhaps, is to contain the war and manage the bramble back into the hedges and keep it under control and the same for ivy – but not just yet.


            At the moment, bramble, or blackberry is the maternity home and nursery for robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, warblers and finches. It provides a year-round protection for small mammals and birds. Later in the year, its flowers will attract a myriad of insects such as honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies, and its fruit will be eaten by birds, small mammals and even foxes.


            As for ivy – there seems to be a world-wide controversy raging as to its destructive properties. On the whole, the contention is, that as far as buildings and walls are concerned, the damage it causes is in direct proportion to the quality of the building or construction. It is agreed that it should not be allowed to lift tiles or creep into crevices. On the other hand, a strongly built wall or building can support ivy and serve as both a decorative feature and an ecological support. As far as trees are concerned, it is, apparently, difficult for ivy to kill a healthy tree, and contrary to popular belief, it is not a parasite like mistletoe, which feeds directly from the tree.


            There seems to be no end to the ecological benefits of ivy: shelter for nesting birds and roosting bats, pollen for the butterflies and bees and countless other insects; in March and April, its berries provide food for domestic and migrant birds, and in winter, it provides protective ground cover and allows birds to continue foraging in snowy and icy conditions. However, no matter how beneficial to bird and insect life, it is difficult to buy into these ecological truths when confronted by a garden which has become overrun by ivy and bramble – wonderful for your wildlife, but in which you would like a share too. So the answer is to try and find a balanced solution. Drastic eradication of both bramble and ivy should be avoided until the nesting season is over. Try and resist radically trimming your hedges. If ivy has become quite out of control on a tree and is blocking the tree's light, cut it away at the base of the tree in late summer; by winter, it will have died back and you can safely remove it.


            But now is the time to take advantage of a soft soil to dig up young, rogue brambles, and if you have holly shooting up everywhere, dig this up too and replant it into an existing hedge or create a new one. In late summer, When the nesting season is over, eradicate bramble that is too encroaching and pull ivy back to an acceptable level and try and weed it out and away from young Rhododendron, Camellia and hydrangeas.


            Bird nesting season in UK is from March 1 to July 31, but some birds such as barn owls will nest all year round. It is a punishable offence to intentionally, or recklessly disturb any wild bird while it is nesting, or to take or destroy any wild bird eggs.


            It is not really the best time to be putting up nesting boxes, which is in autumn, when some birds will take up residence for roosting and the boxes will be an established habitat by early spring. But if this was one of your intended New Year's-resolution chores and you have decided not to put it off any further, you may tempt some late-comers like tits, who don't start house-hunting until February or March – here are some tips on where to site the boxes:

            • For sparrows, starlings and and tits, the boxes should be placed 2 – 4 metres up a tree or wall. All nesting boxes should be sheltered from direct sunlight and wet winds; ideally, they should be positioned north and east and at a slight downward angle to protect them from driving rain.

            • You can also put 2 or 3 well spaced boxes, in the eaves for colonizers such as house sparrows and starlings, but to avoid conflict, make sure that they are at some distance from house martins' habitual nesting places.

            • Boxes for spotted flycatchers should also be at a height of about 2 – 4 metres; they need a protective, leafy environment but with a clear outlook. Ensure too, that the boxes have direct access and an uncluttered entrance.

            • Woodpeckers too, need clear access to their boxes which should be attached to a tree trunk at a height of between 3 – 5 metres, in a calm, quiet environment. Provide woodpeckers with wood chips and a log of rotten wood or balsa they like have something to peck at in their box.

            • Robins, and wrens like open-front boxes. These should be lower than 2 metres and well hidden in a leafy habitat. In fact, if you really want to attract wrens and goldcrests, plant a conifer for this is their natural habitat. Pied wagtails and spotted flycatchers also like open front boxes.


            If you decide to make your own nesting boxes, they can be made from any old bits of wood lying around, provided the wood is natural and untreated. (CCA pressure treated wood which has an attractive greenish stain, contains chromium, copper and arsenic and although it has been modified to conform to environmental safety – there is still plenty of the old stuff in use and is potentially harmful to all animals including humans.) Remember to drill drainage holes in the bottom of the box. To safeguard against cats and to prevent the fledglings from falling out, make sure the hole is at least 125 mm from the floor of the nesting box Avoid making a perch at the entrance; it is unnecessary and attracts predators. Have removable or hinged lids with a sturdy fastener to make the boxes easy to clean out in autumn. Holes should be no larger than 25mm for blue, marsh and coal tits. 28mm for tree sparrows, nuthatches and great tits and 45mm for starlings.

            Do resist the temptation to peek, it is potentially very harmful and it can result in birds deserting the nest and their chicks.


            Remember too, to protect trees when you are installing the boxes. Avoid using nails and use a covered wire. Check the tree every couple of years or so, to make sure that the wire is not biting into the trunk, which will have grown in width in that time.




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