The Spring Bug

We humans are quite familiar with this particular bug. After dusting off the Winter blues, we become very active in Spring, renewing and cleaning everything to mark the start of another cycle. Around the same time, our feathered friends start their own cycle - one of renewing their species.

The problems come when our activities overlap with each other.

We get busy in "the big clean-up" of the garden, removing trees, clearing land of shrubs and vines, giving a blade 2 chop to our hedges, etc. These activities can have a marked effect on many of the smaller birds.

Have we ever paused to think about the effect our actions might be having on them? Have we considered what new lives might be being hatched amidst the greenery, in silence, and safe from predatory eyes? Many assume all birds nest in trees -and this is true for many, but not for some smaller birds like wrens, finches, etc. Instead, they need the dense cover of shrubbery to stay safe. Some small birds even choose to nest in thorny bushes that allow them to pass freely, but deter larger birds from attempting to enter.

One may think that feeding activities would be noticeable, but this is not necessarily so. The adults do not stay around the nest, and are skilled at planning their entry and exit from the shrubbery so that the presence of the nest is NOT noticed.

Silence too is part of the plan, so don't expect to hear a lot of chirping from any youngsters that might be hidden in your hedge. In essence, these smaller birds run a very covert operation, in silence and secrecy.

Usually, the only time we get to know of the existence of such a nest is when we decide to embark on a tidy-up, and out come the hedge clippers, and perhaps even a chainsaw. When we do find the nest, even if undamaged by our actions, the survival rate of the nestlings rapidly diminishes through stress. And, with their security and secrecy no longer intact, they are more likely to be found by predator birds.

Putting them up in a tree would be disastrous, but even if another shrub were available (if the nest is still intact), this is also not a good answer. "The game is up" once their hiding place is discovered, and other eyes will have been watching every move made during any relocation process. Even once in the hands of an experienced carer, the wrens particularly seem to fall like dominoes -one dies, and the others quickly follow. Their hold on life outside of their natural environment seems tenuous at best.

So, before doing a "Spring Clean-up", we should spare a thought for the fragile living treasures that might be populating our garden, and consider whether any tree or shrub trimming (or even removal) really needs to be done in Spring time.

If at all possible, consider postponing such work until the cooler months of Autumn when most avian breeding is over. The adult birds then have plenty of time to choose another hiding place well ahead of the next breeding season. By so doing, we will have increased the chances of survival of the next generation of small birds.

Fairy Wrens range from 11 - 17 cms in length.
Their dome-shaped nests are about 9cm Diameter, and about 7cm high.

Double-barred Finchs are typically 11cm from tip of beak to tip of tail.
Their dome-shaped nests are about 13cm Diameter, and about 9cm high with a side access hole.