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Would you like to host Swift nest boxes with your neighbours? We’re looking for Swift street champions!

In recent days the Swifts are arriving back in Ealing! We have pretty much completed phase one of our Swift project, with about 60 boxes already up and ready for inspection by adult breeding pairs who have returned to find their traditional nest site no longer present or accessible. As well as first year breeding birds looking to set up home.

If anyone would like Swift nest boxes installed as we reach phase two of the project, then drop us a line on hello@ealingwildlifegroup.com with your name, street address and whether you’ve seen swifts or know they are breeding nearby.

For efficiency and cost saving with our contractor we are looking to find Swift champions who will recruit 5-10 neighbours on their street or in the immediate vicinity who would each host 1-3 boxes on their houses. And a calling system or two on each street as well. We hope to get phase two complete by July when young birds will start inspecting potential nest cavities for when they return in 2023.

Phase three will be the individuals who have already been in touch who want boxes they already have erected on their house only, or wish to host one or two of our boxes on their own home. If you can be the Swift champion for your neighbourhood and offer a home for lots of boxes then we can get to you quicker. So get in that neighbourhood Whatsapp or Facebook group and gauge interest.

We would love to host more boxes in Acton, Northolt, Greenford and Southall so offers from these areas will now be prioritised.

More info here:

Also as always happy to answer questions in comments, but please do read the article first

Swift W Swift

Could you be an Ealing Swift champion?

We’re very excited to have exceeded our funding goal to help save Ealing’s Swifts. If you’re not aware of the campaign you can read more here: https://ealingwildlifegroup.com/ealing-wildlife-group/projects/save-ealing-swifts/save-ealings-swifts/

But now, we are looking for interested residents, business and organisations who would be happy to host some of our swift nest boxes ahead of their summer breeding season this year. We’re especially interested in public buildings where they can be enjoyed by many. If you’re interested or have a site in mind please read the following to make sure it’s suitable and then drop us a line on hello@ealingwildlifegroup.com.

By hosting some of our Swift nest boxes you’ll be helping this iconic summer visitor and now red-listed bird remain as a thriving species in the borough of Ealing for future generations to enjoy. 

We have a few requirements we hope you can meet to be part of the project which we will outline here. It’s important we have suitable sites and full commitment from one or two Swift champions at each site to ensure the success and sustainability of the project. 

As we have had a good response from interested parties, we’re asking that you run through this list and self-select whether you think your site might meet these requirements before we arrange a visit. We’re happy to chat through any concerns or minor points that might not fully satisfy the list on a case by case basis either by email or phone. 

Physical requirements:

  • A North, East or North-East facing wall on a building to erect boxes
  • Space for at least three, but preferably five boxes at least 0.5m apart
  • A sheltered position under a ledge or eaves if possible
  • A drop of at least 5m height underneath each box, free from any physical obstructions to allow young swifts to drop and take their first flight without becoming grounded
  • In some sites we may wish to host a public education sign or information board to showcase the project and educate about Swift conservation and wider biodiversity

Logistics:

  • Permission from building owners to erect long lasting nest boxes onto the building, affixed using screws and other hardware drilled into the brick or woodwork
  • Access to site with high ladders and/or cherry picker equipment as needed
  • Depending on sites, you may prefer to erect the boxes yourself rather than have our contractor visit to do so (please let us know if this is the case)
  • Ideally we want to get boxes up by the end of April 2022, but some sites may have to be later (young swifts will still check out boxes put up later in summer)

Swift champions:

  • One or preferably two people per site who will act as point of contact for us at EWG
  • Willingness to act as a Swift champion, educating and advocating for Swift conservation at each site and with any residents, occupants, visitors etc 
  • Responsibility to operate calling systems during key periods to attract Swifts to the boxes in the early phase of the project, anticipated to be at least three seasons in early and late summer when Swifts are arriving from and preparing to leave for Africa

Calling systems:

  • We will supply a small electronic device that plays the sound of Swifts at each site to try to recruit returning adult Swifts that are looking for a nest site or have been displaced from a previous one, as well as young Swifts thinking about a nest site for the following summer
  • We can also supply a Swift call CD or MP3 digital file for you to play if preferable
  • Calling systems need to be played in close proximity to the nest boxes to attract passing Swifts to investigate as they like to nest in loose colonies
  • The electronic box can be placed outside on a wall or window ledge and the wire looped back through a window. It needs to be plugged into a USB socket or plug adaptor in order to work and can be placed on an automatic timer. We can provide what is needed at each site
  • Calling system volume can be adjusted, but ideally would mimic the natural sounds (and volume) Swifts would make around the nest site anyway
  • If there are concerns around noise the calling systems can be played at certain times of day only
  • Ideally they should be played for an hour or two in the morning and evening at peak Swift arrival time in late April/early May, and again when young Swifts are on the wing and preparing to leave in late summer (late July/August)
  • We can advise on this on a case by case basis, but the use of calling systems for the first few years of a project until Swifts are established in boxes and the site becomes attractive in its own right to passing swifts is a vital part of the success of the project
  • We’re hoping you can accommodate the calling system until Swifts take up residence but do let us know if there are any concerns about this so we can find a solution that works for everyone

Monitoring:

  • Any Swift sightings and breeding records should be submitted both to EWG and Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) each year to support ongoing monitoring of Swifts in Ealing
  • We will set up an easy system to do this
  • We would also ask that we can visit the site to observe and monitor Swift activity, and if appropriate bring the public to see the boxes if they are successful in attracting breeding Swifts in future

We hope all of the above is reasonable and can be accommodated. Please let us know if your proposed site meets the requirements or get in touch if you have any concerns or queries. 

If you have a site in mind or would like to suggest one, ask more questions or volunteer with the project then please drop us a line on hello@ealingwidlifegroup.com

More information on swifts and boxes can be found here:

https://www.swift-conservation.org/
https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/safeguarding-species/swiftmapper/about-swifts/

A Closer Look: Native Winter Berries

By Caroline Farrow

A feast for wildlife when they need it most

In the dark cold days of winter, nothing is more cheery in the grey landscape than colourful winter berries dotting the hedgerows. However not only are they beautiful , they provide a vital food source for birds, insects, and mammals when little other food is available. All of the following berries can be found growing wild and in gardens in Ealing. They are a great addition to any garden/greenspace to help the wildlife through the winter! (I realise that several of these are technically not berries, but I will refer to them as such for the sake of convenience)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

“Hawthorn Berries” by Acradenia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

You can find hawthorn pretty much everywhere in the Borough, on the sides of the A40, up on Horsenden Hill, the Bunny Park, everywhere. Found in hedgerows the fruits are called Haws and are eaten by loads of migrating birds such as Redwings, Waxwings and Fieldfares. Our natives such as Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Hawfinches, Starlings and many other birds enjoy them too!

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

“Eating rowan berries” by hedera.baltica is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Rowan is another winter bird favourite, including Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Fieldfare and Waxwing. This feeds more than just birds, caterpillars of the apple fruit moth feed on the berries as well!

Dog rose (Rosa canina)

“Chilly Rosehips” by William Parsons Pilgrim is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

These beautiful native hedgerow roses turn into the bright red hips that feed birds such as Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwing, Fieldfare  and Waxwings, which then disperse the seeds in their droppings, and some birds like finches actually eat the seeds!

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorn sloes by Caroline Farrow

The beautiful plum like drupes of the Blackthorn (called sloes) provide insects, mammals, and larger birds like the thrushes and hawfinches a lovely midwinter feast. Humans also use them for making flavoured gin!

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

 “Spindle berries” by ngawangchodron is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

House Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, various Tits, and Starlings, and even mice and foxes eat the berries of the spindle. (It’s poisonous to humans though!). I haven’t seen a lot of spindle in Ealing, but I might just not be looking in the right places though as it’s a sign of ancient woodland. I will keep an eye out for it in our local bits of woodland such as Long Wood, Fox Wood, Horsenden Wood, and Perivale wood. Please let us know in the comments if you spot any out and about!

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

“Holly Berries” by Me in ME is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Most birds leave these until later in the winter; they eat certain berries at certain times in the winter to ensure they have enough to last until spring. Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings all eat the berries. However the Mistle Thrushes don’t mess around, they will aggressively guard their berries to prevent all the other birds from getting any! Small mammals like wood mice and dormice also enjoy them.

Ivy (Hedera helix)

“Ivy berries” by rcasha is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This is another high fat, calorie dense berry that the birds leave until late winter when the other berries have dwindled and the ground is still too hard to forage for worms and insects and nothing else is growing. Some of the bird species that enjoy Ivy berries are Thrushes, Blackcaps, Bullfinches, Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds, Doves, Warblers, and Jays. And despite popular belief Ivy does not kill trees!

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)

“Guelder Rose Berries.” by cazstar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Another ancient woodland indicator, the red berries are an important food source for birds, including Bullfinches and Mistle Thrushes. Far from ancient woodland however, the berries are a favourite food of Waxwings coming from Scandinavia who can often be seen scarfing them down in car parks! If anyone knows of a local guelder rose landscaped car park, please comment below so we can all potentially see some Waxwings this winter!

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

“Mistletoe berries” by Hornbeam Arts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I almost didn’t include mistletoe because it is relatively scarce in Ealing (and London in general) but can you talk about winter berries and not mention mistletoe? Mistletoe doesn’t grow as a separate shrub, they are parasites and derive most of their nutrients from their host trees. They particularly like Hawthorn, Lime, Poplar, Sycamore, Ash, and in the UK their favourite is Apple trees. They are hemi parasitical however so they do also photosynthesize. Blackcaps love mistletoe, they eat the pith but wipe the sticky seeds off their bills and onto the tree branches, helping the mistletoe find new hosts trees. Mistle Thrushes (unsurprisingly) also enjoy mistletoe berries.

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