Country Matters March 20

Blue Tits enjoying a nest!

Country Matters

By The Hodge

‘A little bird is content with a little nest.’


Although it doesn’t feel like it as the wind howls and the rain splatters against my window – yet again – March will witness the arrival of spring in its later stages and with that, the bird nesting season, (and the breeding season for most wild creatures).

It will be very unusual if you don’t have birds within sight of where you live and in a rural area such as this, you will not be very far from a nest of some sort. We have a huge variety of birds and they in turn have a myriad of nesting sites and degrees of nest-building abilities.

Some birds nest in the very tops of the tallest trees – you will see among the earliest nest builders the rookeries taking place in bare trees. Little platforms of twigs that look precarious in a modest breeze but positively disastrous in a storm. These sociable birds gather in groups of up to 50 birds and nest together in a single or adjoining trees, their ‘song’ a reminder that spring is near.

Many other birds like life in the treetops from woodpigeons to grey herons which look far too big and clumsy but somehow manage to rear their broods in a heronry. There are plenty of herons around the Water Park but I have never found where they nest.

Other tree dwellers prefer the safety of a hole in the tree and already I have heard many a rattle of the woodpecker as he drills away to make a home for his forthcoming family. Nuthatches and treecreepers enjoy such security too and owls will nest in suitable voids in larger trees if they can find them.

Many birds nest on the ground. Game birds such as pheasant and partridge will cleverly hide their nests in the grass. Plovers and lapwings too take their chances against marauding predators by nesting in open ground. Many water birds will nest on banks of waterways and lakes and the mallards have already paired up in preparation. The ones most likely to be seen are those of the mute swan, mainly due to their size, and the coot which builds a fragile platform on the lower branches of a tree or shrub where it meets the water. Kingfishers nest in a hole in the bank of the waterway and can be seen flying in and out as they go off to hunt.

Most birds nest in hedges and bushes including many of the garden birds. Even so, the nests are often so cleverly disguised, you may not see them until long after fledging has taken place. Some nests are rudimentary and fragile. Others are elaborate and beautiful such as the long-tailed titmouse which nests in an extended pocket built of twigs and moss. Many such hedge-dwellers may be tempted to utilise a nesting box if you have them.

Buildings too provide homes for nursing parents. House martins, swifts and swallows will all build nests in or on houses, barns etc. Barn owls too favour old farm buildings. House sparrows are another whose talents don’t extend to masterful nest building and they will often be seen squeezing through the gaps in real Cotswold stone tiles to nest in the safety of old rooves. In our cottage, the jackdaws nest every year in the chimneys. Like some others, their building skills are non-existent and the fire grates are littered with twigs that fall down. Later as the young birds grow and get heavier, they too often end up arriving in the fire place – we don’t light fires once nesting begins – and have to be rescued and released. Most dwellings have their chimneys capped with a wire cage to prevent nesting but I’ve resisted the call to do likewise as jackdaws in the chimney always seem to me to be part of country life.

Needless to say, now that nesting time is here, please leave your hedges untrimmed until August unless they are causing a danger to road users. Hedge cutting frightens away nesting birds leaving eggs to rot and chicks to die and exposes well hidden nests to marauding killers such as jays, magpies and grey squirrels.

And finally, encourage and help the birds by providing food and clean water at all times and enjoy the sight and sound of our native birds.

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