Young Ones

If the local residents around you have been lucky then you might just be seeing the first juveniles of some of our common garden birds begin to appear in your garden. It’s right around now that the first broods of Robins, Blackbirds and Starlings begin to appear in gardens, particularly in the southern half of Britain where the extra warmth may have encouraged parents to nest a little earlier than in the north.

It’s a tough time as these juveniles are vulnerable to predation whether by natural predators or domestic cats. They may be unable to fly any significant distance and often can often get themselves into scrapes, wedged behind a plant pot or down the side of a greenhouse for example.

In most cases the best thing to do is leave well alone, though in a few instances if a young bird has managed to squeeze itself into somewhere it doesn’t look like getting out of a helping hand can be useful.

Seeing young birds fall victim to predation, become road traffic victims or just appear very vulnerable is always difficult and can prompt a natural desire to intervene from birdwatchers but it’s important to remember that birds have evolved their brood size to cope with these losses. Many clutches of eggs or young will be lost and not even reach the stage of fledging. This is all fairly normal and many garden birds will have two or even three broods of young in a year to compensate for the losses.

Juvenile birds present another challenge to garden birdwatchers as they are almost always in different plumage to the more familiar adults. The Robin is one of the best examples of this, juveniles have the same body size, shape and behaviour but lack the red breast and grey shoulders of adults completely, instead their juvenile feathers are a gingery tone and streaked.

One of the key ways to check the age of any bird is to look at the gape, that’s the base of the bill, in young birds it’s more bulbous and yellow. Behaviour too can be a good indicator of young birds, they tend to be tamer and not as flighty as adults, perhaps not having had much or any contact with humans and other animals while in the nest.

I’ve found that a few suet pellets scattered around the lawn are attractive to juveniles after they’ve begun to forage for themselves, particularly to ground feeding species such as Blackbirds and Robins. Generally those first few weeks it’s insect food for young birds though, beetles and bugs.

It’s also important to remember that even in a small garden a simple bird bath can be a lifesaver on a warm day for Garden Birds.

***

Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.