Birds on your doorstep

Song thrush, at nest in pine tree with chicks
Song thrush, at nest in pine tree with chicks

This is the time of year when nesting activity is at its peak - a hugely taxing time for parent birds.

In the long hours or daylight they get little rest as they struggle to find enough food for their offspring and themselves (less natural food about nowadays), avoid predators and cope with the increasing vagaries of the weather - from hot sun and drought to cold wind and rain.

The young birds themselves, whether still in the nest or having recently fledged, are extremely vulnerable to the dangers of the world they have no experience of, and many die as a result of predation, starvation and extremes of weather.

We humans can do little about natural factors affecting breeding success and failure, but there is one additional problem for nesting birds which we can do something about - unnecessary disturbance. Very few people disturb birds deliberately, but many are unaware that their presence is keeping the adults away from their eggs or nestlings, which then become chilled and exposed to predators and other dangers. I myself realized the other day, when having a coffee on the patio, that I was too near a swallow nesting in the front porch, and quickly moved to another spot.

Another example is people just walking or picnicking along a stretch of beach where terns or ringed plovers are trying to nest. These birds, with their cryptically coloured eggs and chicks, are not always easily visible - especially by non-naturalists - and their alarm calls not noticed, but I would request people to be on the lookout for signs that their presence may be causing a problem.

Pets, too, can be a big cause of unnecessary disturbance and danger when recently fledged birds are tottering about, and it helps enormously if dogs are kept on leads and cats are kept away at this critical time of their lives.