The UK has experienced record winter temperatures in February. While the hot spell was wonderful for people, it wasn’t great news for birds.
Our gardens and countryside have experienced the early arrival of migrating birds this year and various species have appeared in huge numbers. A full month before the spring equinox, swallows have been on the wing and both butterflies and bumblebees have been seen flitting around gardens in the UK.
False sense of security
But experts at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have warned that the unseasonably warm temperatures could result in a crisis for wildlife. It is possible that the warm spell will lead animals into a false sense of security.
Robins and blackbirds have already been witnessed building their nests, laying eggs and raising young. If the weather takes a turn for the worse and we experience another Beast from the East or similar cold period, young birds will find it difficult to survive. Birds rely on cues from the environment to tell them when it is time to nest and this year those cues came abnormally early.
Early breeding is always beneficial
Early breeding can be a good thing as it enables birds to have an extra brood. However, if the weather becomes cold again, the birds might not be able to find sufficient food for themselves and their chicks.
The warmer weather could see invertebrates, valuable food for birds, emerging early. But they will die if temperatures seriously fall. A sudden cold snap will kill flowering plants which provide nectar for the birds and emerging insects.
Swallows and sand martins
The country is seeing unprecedented numbers of swallows and sand martins for the time of year. The birds have arrived early from Africa, courtesy of what is known as the Saharan Plume. Swallows aren’t usually seen until late March or early April and yet there were 30 sightings between 10 February and the end of the month. The first house martin was sighted in Cornwall 15 February and 20 further individuals were seen in the succeeding days. 4 of these were recorded as far north as Shetland in Scotland.
Basking in the sunshine
Daffodils flowered early and bats were seen in gardens across the nation in February. The early arrival of spring is doubtless the result of climate change and could have a dramatic impact on all species of birds, mammals and insects. While we enjoy the novelty of eating outdoors in February and basking in the sunshine, there could be big trouble ahead for garden birds.
Bird feeders more important than ever
It is more important than ever to address climate change and to keep an eye on the birds in your garden. If warm spells in winter are followed by colder weather, you can help the birds by keeping your feeders stocked up. This won’t solve climate change but it will ensure that more birds live to fight another day.