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Early warm sunshine has caused havoc with wildlife


March 2019

Bird on bird feeder
In cooler weather, higher energy food is useful for birds

The RSPB is warning that the unseasonably warm weather we have enjoyed recently could lead to a crisis for nature – particularly if it turns cold again, as it did last year.

The charity has received a number of reports about birds attempting to nest and breed, butterflies emerging, hedgehogs, reptiles and insects coming out of hibernation and even migrant birds like swallows and house martins appearing back in the country much earlier than they should.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Global Conservation, said: “While the warm weather, bright sunshine and abundant sights and sounds of nature undoubtedly made us all feel better, they should also ring alarm bells. As the weather returns to temperatures more traditionally associated with this time of year, and as they are forecast to do, then there could be a real crisis for our birds, insects and other wildlife.”

The charity’s wildlife team has been getting calls from people reporting early nesting attempts and in some cases even early young, with ducklings being spotted across the country. 

There are reports that hedgehogs and other hibernating species, like some reptiles and butterflies, are waking up earlier than usual, prompted by the warm weather.

Travelling ahead of the ‘Saharan plume’ of warm winds, many birds usually seen in spring are starting to arrive back in the UK after spending a warm winter in Africa.  The RSPB is already receiving reports of swallows and house martins being spotted in Cornwall, Devon and south Wales weeks ahead of when they would usually be expected to be seen back in the UK.

Charlotte Ambrose from the RSPB’s Wildlife Team, said: “Birds rely on environmental cues such as temperature to know when to start making a nest and start breeding. Because of the extremely mild weather, some birds and other wildlife are starting early. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it may allow some birds to have an extra brood before the main breeding season starts, but if the weather changes back to more normal conditions, the birds may get caught out and struggle to find enough food for themselves and their young.

“If invertebrates emerge early they will be here when the early nesting birds and their chicks need them, but again a cold snap could mean they don’t survive. Any sudden bad weather can kill-off early flowering plants, which are a source of nectar for insects, meaning they will struggle to find enough food.”
While there isn’t a lot we can do to change the weather forecast, there are things we can do to help the wildlife in our gardens survive a cold snap or early breeding season.

Feeding birds means you need to supply a good variety of food if you want to attract a variety of species. Different birds like different foods…so a mix of household scraps including pastry, cooked rice, breadcrumbs, and fruit (especially bruised apples and pears) will be very popular with a number of different birds.

With commercial bird food, try and get a good mix of peanuts, seeds and also live food such as mealworms and waxworms. Mixes include sunflower seeds, broken peanuts, flaked maize and smaller seeds such as millet is always useful to help address the different needs by different species.

After the recent warm spell, if our weather turns cold again the birds really need energy-rich foods like meal worms and fat balls. Peanuts are useful as they are also high in fat content and you can also put out kitchen scraps such as fat and suet, mild grated cheese, cooked potatoes, pastry and dried fruit. Bear in mind though not to put out salted peanuts...birds cannot process salt and can die if they eat too much.

Also on peanuts, as the breeding season gets underway, only put out peanuts in metal mesh feeders so that the birds and especially the young cannot try and take a whole peanut which can choke them.

Finally, of course, in hot or cold weather, make sure there is a regular supply of clean water for birds to both drink and also to bathe in.

To find out more about the birds in your garden and what you can to do help, please visit   

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