Researchers from Birmingham hope to help the plight of woodland birds in a pioneering project. Sophie Cross went down to the woods.
To the average homeowner peering out of a window into the garden of their Worcestershire property, there might at first seem nothing unusual about the tiny bird hopping from branch to branch of a tree.
But look closer and you may spot a tiny coloured ring around the creature’s leg, which indicates it is part of a pioneering research project being carried out in the area.
Staff from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Ornithology have been conducting a study into the effects of the public’s feeding of woodland birds during breeding season.
As part of an ongoing project at Chaddesley Wood National Nature Reserve, the team hopes that with the public’s help, the results will provide the British Trust for Ornithology with valuable information about how people can help and not hinder birds.
They have been attaching coloured rings to the legs of birds nesting in the wood to monitor their movements throughout the winter months.
PhD student Simone Webber and her supervisor Dr Jim Reynolds are part of the team carrying out the research, which focuses on blue and great tit species, supported by volunteers from Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and sponsors CJ WildBird Foods.
Although the birds are not endangered, Simone said their findings could prove an invaluable model for future research because it was the first time they had been fed over an extended period.
She explained: “People now tend to feed birds all year round, but we are specifically looking at what effect it has on the birds and their chicks if we put out food during the breeding season.
“We put out peanut cake to cover the nesting, egg-laying, incubating and hatching periods and we monitor the new fledglings. We have found that areas of supplementary feeding tend to advance the egg-laying date.”
To help identify each bird the team has spent weeks carrying out the delicate practice of bird ringing.
Simone added: “During the breeding season we ring all the nestlings, and catch and ring the adults at the nest boxes or with mist netting.
“We are asking people to keep an eye out for birds with coloured rings on their legs in their gardens.”
She said the public’s contributions will help researchers understand how many birds move into surrounding villages in the winter, as well as provide information about where they are finding food and what they are feeding on.
One of their feathery subjects was recently found by another group of bird ringers as far away as Warwickshire. People who report ringed bird in their garden can find out more about it, from whether the bird is male or female and who their partner is, to how many chicks they raised this year.
Simone encouraged gardeners to help feed birds during the winter, as some birds can find it hard to find food during poor weather.
But she advised them to research what they should leave out for them, and to regularly clean their bird feeders so as to prevent the spread of disease.
Chaddesley Wood is owned by Natural England but managed by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
Andy Harris, the trust’s reserve officer for Chaddesley Wood, said: “The results of this study will help conservation bodies like ourselves and the British Trust for Ornithology to work out what, if anything, we can do to help the plight of woodland birds.”
* Anyone who spots colour-ringed birds can make a note of the combinations and look up the chart on www.ornithology.bham.ac.uk/news/2009/Colourringing.shtml or contact Simone direct at email@example.com or on 0121 414 4090.
* For more information about Worcestershire Wildlife Trust visit www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk