There is usually no better time to be out in the garden than summer, and with fine weather flowers and shrubs are at their best and broods of young birds are visiting regularly in search of food, there is plenty to enjoy. However it’s well worth remembering that summer may not always be easy going on wildlife.
In many parts of the country a lack of rainfall over a prolonged period, coupled with an increasing number of hose pipe bans, means that some gardens do not develop into their full summer glory as they can dry out and become arid.Often, by July or August time, some areas – notably in the South East – are beginning to look very parched indeed. It is perhaps fortunate that many birds, having completed their nesting cycle, are prepared to range more widely in search of food.You may still see some of your regular visitors coming to feeders or foraging among the borders, but drier conditions will make it more difficult for them to do so. Blackbirdsand Song Thrushes, for example, will find it far less easy to extract worms from the rock-hard lawns.Like the rest of us, birds depend on water for their survival. If you live in a restriction-free area you can continue to top up bird baths and wildlife ponds in the usual way, and this will be a valuable resource for wildlife in your neighbourhood. If you are affected by a hosepipe ban or drought order, it may be worth installing a water butt – after all, you don’t have to pay for rain!
Say goodbye to summer migrants
August is the last month in which you will see some familiar garden birds, with breeding over for many species and migration well underway for some.
Swifts which have also been screaming noisily over many areas since May will be all but gone this month – this species has a short summer in Britain, arriving late and departing early for wintering areas in Africa. Keep watching the skies and note the date on which you last see them – you will find their departure dates vary very little from year to year.
Relatively few gardens enjoy visits from Cuckoos, but those living in more rural or wooded locations have a last chance to see these species too. Most adult Cuckoos will also be on their way home already, although young birds linger longer.
Other species are also getting restless for their seasonal flights south, from Turtle Doves and Tree Pipits to Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers. Even if such summer migrants do not nest in or near your garden, August offers the chance to pick them up on passage – and with so many young birds now on the wing, their numbers should be much greater than in spring.
Records of all such out-of-place migrants will be welcomed by the British Trust for Ornithology BirdTrack project, as well as by your local bird club. And remember to keep a field guide handy by your kitchen window, just in case one of these less familiar species happen to visit your garden.
It’s probably the second busiest time of the year in the garden so it’s important to keep the feeders topped up. The youngsters need all the help they can get now that they are finally independent, and the adults need to recover their energies after the tiring breeding season. That’s why you should never stop feeding the birds over the summer season.
It’s also a time when many species are undergoing their moult. This complicated process is both energetically expensive and essential, and is governed by factors such as migration, breeding, wintering and so on.
Suffice to say that the time when the principal flight feathers are replaced is the most critical because these are the largest and have the bulk of the material in their structures. Feathers are made of protein, like our hair and fingernails, so a constant source of this is required to complete the process successfully.
Moult is a stressful affair for birds and only the fittest survive, but without a new, strong and properly developed set of feathers then the birds will not be able to forage or fend for themselves for the rest of the year.
So, once again it’s a case of every little helps, and a reliable supply of food in our gardens can only be an asset. Sadly, summer doesn’t last forever, so now is a good time to plan for the autumn and winter when it comes to wildlife care.
Birds desperately need food in summer
Every day in summer, adult birds are searching for food and taking it back to their young. But did you realise just how many insects birds need to survive?
According to figures from the RSPB, a young Blue Tit may need to eat as many as 100 caterpillars each day, while Robin chicks require some 40 meals daily. An adult Common Swift can eat as many as 40,000 flying insects each day, and will need even more to feed to its young.
Many species have large broods, with Blue Tits having up to 10 or more young. Some birds, like House Martins, often have two or even three broods, which means they are feeding young almost continuously.
RSPB Wildlife Adviser Lee Hollingsworth says: “To think that one pair of tiny birds like Blue Tits might need to find up to 1,000 caterpillars every single day is just astonishing. That’s a lot of flying back and forth and the amount of energy used up in the search for food is incredible.
This is where we can help by continuing to put out food and water during the breeding season. Having it regularly available in a known spot could save at least a few journeys for garden birds, and could seriously conserve energy levels. Lawns, plants and trees are home to thousands of bugs and insects. Although we might want our gardens to look neat and tidy for all those BBQs, we’d urge people to leave them a little more scruffy.”
The RSPB’s tips on how to help wildlife in your garden this summer include
* Don’t cut grass too short – longer grass and flowers attracts insects.
* Try to have something in flower for most of the year.
* Always use peat-free compost.
* Choose tubs of different shapes, heights and sizes in groups.
* Create a water feature – anything from a pond to an old sink will do.
* Make an insect stack – pile up old logs, sticks, leaves and wood in a corner.
Keep up the feeding
The traditional view was always that we should concentrate on feeding our birds in the winter, when it’s cold and nasty and they have a tough time searching for food to survive. Thankfully the world is moving on from this idea and that these days we are all feeding all year round.
Of course, while youngsters are in the nest they will be feeding on a diet of insects, but remember that they also need protein to grow. As soon as they have flown the nest they will naturally visit your bird food restaurant and get stuck in.
The tired adults could also do with some easy pickings too as they have just expended a vast amount of energy during the breeding process, and some will even be about to begin again with a new nest and another clutch of eggs.
So as you can see, it may not be the busiest time of year on your feedersand tables but it is still one where every little helps.
If you really want to do your bit to ensure that the next generation gets a good start, then providing live food will pay dividends – mealworms are loved by all species, and earthworms by the thrushes in particular.
How to help during July and August…
Stock up with essentials, such as food, and take care to store it in a dry, rodent-free place. This way you will always have a supply of good quality, fresh food to ensure your feedersare kept topped up.
Check to see which nest boxes have served to raise their last brood, and maybe order some new ones to put up in good time for next season.
Try to leave an untidy area for all the other animals that could enjoy your space. Just a square metre of brambles and nettles could make the difference to a brood of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, nectar for the adults and a salad for the larvae.
And why stop there? A good compost heap could be warm enough to attract some Slow Worms, the ultimate natural slug control device! People often think – where have all our Hedgehogs, Song Thrushes and Slow Worms gone? Sadly, the answer is often slug pellets.