Birdland Park & Gardens in the Cotswolds

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Birdland Park & Gardens, located in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, is home to more than 500 birds representing around 140 species, including pelicans, flamingos, penguins, storks, cranes, cassowary and a variety of waterfowl in their water habitats, with over 50 aviaries housing exotic parrots, owls, toucans, touracos, pheasants, hornbills and more. The park is also home to the only King penguins to be found in England, Ireland and Wales and a webcam allows visitors an up-close view of these fascinating birds. Specialized habitats at the park include the Desert House and Toucan House. The Marshmouth Nature Walk covers an area of 2.5 acres with a network of pathways featuring hides and feeding stations, offering visitors an opportunity to enjoy the wildlife in a tranquil haven.

The Discovery Zone features a play and seating area with two display areas, one of which offers examples of all classes of animals, including birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals and amphibians, with the other answering the question “What is a bird?” Explanations include the purpose of a bird’s feathers and how they relate to camouflage, displays in courtship, warning signals and habitat conditions. The Snowy Owl is a good example of the multiple uses of feathers with dense feathers and feathered feet offering warmth in their Arctic habitat and their color providing camouflage. The use of beaks, feet, legs and claws are detailed, along with various feeding habits. Nesting habits of birds, their breeding cycles, fledglings and parenting patterns are other fascinating topics covered at Birdland. Birds of prey – vultures, falcons, hawks, eagles, harriers and owls – are among the highlights of a visit to this nature sanctuary, and visitors will discover how they use their keen eyesight, speed in flight and talons to catch their prey with deadly accuracy.

The Desert House is home to birds that live in arid conditions, and visitors can view the birds from a platform at one end of the habitat, while the Toucan House is home to a range of these colorful birds. Events at Birdland include a Summer Talks program; Meet the Keeper; Penguin Feed; Pelican Feed; and Birds of Prey Encounter Days. Facilities include a playground, gift shop and the Penguin Café – everything necessary for a memorable family outing.

RSPB to Research Starling Decline in UK

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Swooping through the air in flocks of up to a million birds, starlings have long been a feature of rural life in the United Kingdom. A flock of starlings in flight looks like a dark cloud constantly changing shape as they expand and contract randomly with no apparent leader. This bustle of activity usually takes place near their nesting grounds, in both rural and urban settings, and while some see them as pests, primarily because such large flocks of birds produce large amounts of droppings which can become toxic, starlings are considered to be part of the UK’s natural heritage. So, a recent report by the RSPB based on the annual Big Garden Birdwatch showing that the starling population in the UK had dropped by 80 percent since 1979, with almost a third disappearing in the past decade, is viewed as a cause for concern. Research further reveals that, since 1980, up to 40 million starlings have vanished from European Union countries, translating into a rate of 150 birds an hour.

As primarily insectivorous birds, but eating grains, fruit, and seeds if available, starlings keep insect numbers in check. They have an interesting feeding habit that ensures all in the flock are fed. As they forage amongst short-cropped grasses, birds from the back will continually fly to the front so eventually every bird will have had an opportunity to lead the flock and be first in line to probe the ground for insects. They are also very successful at snatching insects in mid-flight. Unpaired males build nest with which to attract a potential mate, and they often decorate the nest with flowers and green foliage. Upon accepting a mate, the female promptly discards the decorations. Males sing as they construct their nests and will launch into their full repertoire if a female approaches the nest. With starlings nesting quite closely together in large numbers, courting season is a lively time.

The RSPB has launched a research project to try and determine the cause of the drastic decline and formulate a conservation plan. RSPB researchers will be working in conjunction with farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset to examine whether there are sufficient nesting sites and food sources for starlings resident in livestock areas. Conservation director for the RSPB, Martin Harper, noted that they hope the research will yield the information necessary to provide the starlings with a secure future through the development of practical and cost effective solutions for farmers and land managers to implement.

From Poland to UK – A Kingfisher’s Record Flight

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A kingfisher from Poland has reportedly set a new record for the longest migration distance between the Continent and the United Kingdom, by flying a distance of more than 620 miles from its Polish habitat to the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve in Woodbridge, Suffolk. The ringed bird was captured, and later released, by members of the Felixstowe-based Landguard Bird Observatory who were carrying out routine studies on bird ringing at Orford Ness.

The previous record set by a bird of this species was 603 miles, traveling from Marloes, Pembrokeshire to Irun in Spain. The last ringed kingfisher found to have traveled from Europe to the UK, traveled 509 miles from Aken, Germany, in October 2008. While it still needs to be confirmed where exactly the kingfisher was ringed in order to establish the correct distance, Poland is further east than any of the other destinations recorded, making it a record-breaking flight irrespective of where in Poland the bird originated. While kingfishers routinely breed in Poland, a small number are known to migrate to the United Kingdom in autumn, presumably to escape areas that face long periods of freezing conditions.

While acknowledging that bird ringing is not a perfect science, the National Trust warden for Orford Ness, Duncan Kent, pointed out that over a period of time huge amounts of information are collected, providing insight into how long birds live, how far they travel and other valuable data for research purposes. Orford Ness site manager for the National Trust, Grant Lohoar, noted that the capture of the ringed kingfisher highlights the importance of this practice as a tool for conservation, as it allows researchers to identify individual birds.

Research carried out at Orford Ness is considered to be of utmost importance as, with its reed beds, marshes and lagoons, the area serves as a critical stopover site for migrating birds. Landguard Bird Observatory volunteer, Mike Marsh noted that if the kingfisher is indeed confirmed to be from Poland it will be one of the longest migrations for this species recorded in the database for bird ringing. The British Trust for Ornithology will follow up with Polish authorities to determine the point of origin of the record-breaking kingfisher.

Interesting RSPB Survey Results

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The RSPB’s wildlife survey would not be possible if not for the loyal participation of the public, who assist in the Make Your Nature Count project. The survey began on the 4th of June and ran to the 12th of June, involving over fifty thousand gardens. Due to the assistance of the participants, the RSPB Make Your Nature Count project could collect the necessary information to compile a report on a variety of bird species to determine how successful the breeding season was. The feedback was extremely positive.

Once all the data was received, it showed that there was an increase in the breeding of robins, and that there was a ten percent increase in song thrushes in gardens across the United Kingdom. The organizer of the RSPB Make Your Nature Count, Richard Bashford, commented that it was very exciting to see the increase of song thrushes, blackbirds and robins, as it means that weather conditions were ideal during the breeding season. Since 2010, blackbirds had increased by fifteen percent. Bashford said that even though the numbers of the song thrushes had increased, it is important to remember that they did go through a period of decline and are slowly beginning to recover and have a far way to go before their numbers are satisfying, even though there are not any guarantees that the same favorable outcome will appear next year. House sparrows also seemed to increase by approximately twenty percent, but are still to be watched carefully. Thirty percent increases were recorded for chaffinches and blue tits.

The survey was performed in rural areas, urban and suburban areas and it was also the first time the public participants were asked to be on the lookout for grass snakes and bats. Almost one in fifty of the participating members reported grass snakes and they are more likely to be found in rural areas. Thirty-three percent of the participants also reported bats. As an added request they were also asked to take note of toads and frogs, as there had been a decline in their numbers over the last two years. The wildlife in any garden impacts the environment, and through the voluntary services of the public the RSPB is able to conduct their surveys and compile their reports to keep constant records on the various species.

Small Bird Sightings Increase

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The Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK is an annual event that has taken place for the last thirty-two years and is organized by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This is a massive undertaking as it involves over six hundred thousand participants, but it is vital to the tracking and recording of small bird numbers. Members of the public volunteer to take note of their gardens or open public areas and record the number of birds and individual species they see within a dedicated hour. This year the count took place on 29 January 2011 and the feedback was astounding.

During a very severe winter experienced in the United Kingdom in 2009, a significant decrease in small bird sightings was noticed. The new information received proved that the numbers were on the rise again. During the campaign, more than ten million birds were counted and recorded by the public, and it showed that the number of small birds in the United Kingdom had doubled, with sightings of goldcrests, blue tits, greenfinches, wrens, pheasants, jays, kestrels, lapwings, robins and even waxwings, which migrate to the United Kingdom from Scandinavia. It was the most successful count of waxwings in over thirty years. The research also showed that house sparrows were the most highly sighted birds in the gardens of the United Kingdom.

Sarah Kelly, the co-ordinator of the Big Garden Birdwarch, commented: “We were really interested to see how the small birds fared after such a disastrous last year.” She went on to say, “It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little.”

The real excitement, however, was with the wonderful sightings of the waxwings. Even Mark Eaton, scientist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, commented on them saying, “We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we’d had so many reports from all over the UK. But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we’re pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds.”

British Bird Fair 2010

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The British Bird Fair is one of the biggest birding and bird watching events on the British calendar, and offers visitors a host of activities and stores to enjoy. It is an event that focuses on birds and wildlife, and visitors can find everything from binoculars, sculptures and nutritional items to take home with them. Eco-holidays will also be available, and over and above lectures and workshops, there will be fun quiz shows, book launches, art work to enjoy and various other entertaining activities.

The British Bird Fair will be held from 20 – 22 August 2010, and those interested in attending, can visit the fair website at http://www.birdfair.org.uk/ for more information.

Date: 20 – 22 August 2010
Venue: Eagleton Nature Reserve
City: Rutland
Country: United Kingdom

Feed the Birds Day 2009

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On the 24th and 25th of October 2009, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds will be trying to offer more than a hundred locations for bird enthusiasts to get together to take part in the Feed the Birds Day 2009 project. Visitors to the event will learn how to take care of the wild birds in their gardens, being educated on food, nests and a variety of other ways the public can assist in the conservation and protection of wild birds, from the comfort of their own back yard.

For more information on your nearest venue location and the Feed the Birds Day 2009 initiative, kindly visit the Royal Society of the Protections of Birds website at http://www.rspb.org.uk/feedthebirds/index.asp or contact them on 01767 680 551 (office hours).

Date: 24 – 25 October 2009
Venue: Various
City: Various
Country: United Kingdom

British Birdwatching Fair 2009

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The British Birdwatching Fair is not only a wonderful opportunity for bird and wildlife enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of their favorite bird species, but assists the bird fair to raise funds for various wildlife projects. Exhibitors come from far and wide to attend what is referred to as the largest international bird watching event in the world. Over and above browsing the stores and hiking through nature, birding enthusiasts can look forward to interesting workshops and seminars that are hosted throughout the fair.

So for birding fun, seeing rare birds, supporting conservation and buying great accessories such as sculptures, bird toys, binoculars and booking your next eco-holiday, get down to the British Birdwatching Fair. For more information, visit the bird fair website at www.birdfair.org.uk .

Date: 21 – 23 August 2009
Venue: Egleton Nature Reserve
City: Oakham, Rutland
Country: United Kingdom

Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

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The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) is part of the Shearwater family and is extremely distinctive from his counterparts. It is a medium sized Shearwater and is 34 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 81 to 86 centimeters. It is the coloring of the Manx Shearwater that makes them easy to identify. The upper body parts, such at the head, neck, back and the upper part of the wings, are gold in coloring and the plumage is brown to black. Their throats, bellies and under wing areas are white. Their hooked shaped bills are black, with the tail and eyes also being dark in color. The Manx Shearwater forages for food on the surface of the water, but also dives to find fish, mollusks and shellfish.

In the winter months the Manx Shearwater migrates to the coastal areas of South America, and during the breeding season they are found in the United Kingdom, specifically on the island of Lundy. Most of the world’s Manx population migrates to Lundy to breed, and the conservation of these birds is top priority. The conservation has reached a point of urgency, as the 1000 breeding pairs that were recorded in 2001 have declined to 166. This dramatic fall in numbers is a major concern, and the island is currently working on managing the rat population, as they are responsible for many of the eggs being destroyed. The birds start arriving at night during the months of February and March. Burrows and rock crevices on top of the slopes are used for nests. The female Manx Shearwater lays only one egg that is black and orange in color. Both the male and female are responsible for the incubation of the eggs that lasts approximately 52 to 54 days. The chicks are ready to fledge the nest in September, but remain very near to the breeding colony until October.

The Calf of Man, a small island just off Isle of Man, has seen an increase in the number of breeding pairs after the removal of many of the rats that were accidentally introduced to the island by a shipwreck. The oldest Manx Shearwater that has been recorded was aged 55. After being tagged at the age of five in 1953, the bird was trapped again in 2003, alive and well. An ongoing Manx Shearwater conservation project on the Isle of Rum ensures that baby birds get a fighting chance to make it to adulthood.

Wind Turbines Won’t Harm Birds in the Fens

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It seems to be a glaringly obvious concern – will the installation of additional wind farms in lowland agricultural areas in the UK cause birds to abandon the area? They are, after all, very noisy, large and full of movement. New research suggests that the answer to this all-important question is no.

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