8 Interesting Facts about Goldfinches
The goldfinch is one of the most common birds in British gardens. And it’s certainly one of the most striking. Here are 8 interesting facts about these beautiful birds:
#1 According to the RSPB Big Birdwatch 2018, goldfinches have had a bumper year. Recorded sightings rose 11% from 2017 and goldfinches were spotted in an incredible two thirds of gardens. There are currently thought to be 1.2 million breeding pairs of goldfinch in the UK.
#2 Male and female goldfinches look pretty much the same. Juveniles, however, are much duller in appearance. They are mainly brown with some yellow markings on the wings. And they don’t yet have the distinctive red face that they’ll gain in adulthood.
#3 The goldfinch’s attractive colouring and appealing song meant many Victorians kept them as caged pets. The RSPB fought against the practice but it was only in 1933 that the sale of wild birds was made illegal and the wild goldfinch population began to recover.
#4 Goldfinches can be found in a number of religious artworks from the Italian Renaissance. Because it eats thistles, the bird was associated with Christ’s crown of thorns and was referred to as a “saviour” bird.
#5 The goldfinch’s scientific name is Carduelis carduelis. The name is derived from the Latin word for thistle – Carduus – the seeds of which are one of the goldfinch’s favourite foods. They are able to avoid thistle spikes and access these tricky to reach seeds because of their long fine beaks.
#6 Goldfinches traditionally made their homes in farmland. Now, however, they’re often seen in gardens. This is partly down to the food we leave out for them. They have a particular love for niger seeds and sunflower hearts. They are also known to eat small insects.
#7 Goldfinches nest later in the season than most other garden birds. Eggs hatch from June all the way through to September. Nests are made from grass and mud and built high up in trees and hedges. They’re lined with plant down (for heat and comfort) and covered with lichen (for camouflage).
#8 A flock of goldfinches is called a charm. They’re social birds. Once breeding season is over, they can be seen roaming for food in flocks around 40 strong. Groups of up to 100 have also been spotted.
If you’re yet to see goldfinches in your garden, leave out a few of their favourite foods. You could also try growing teasels and lavender, both of which are known to attract these pretty songbirds.
8 Interesting Facts about Robins
The robin is a common garden visitor and was crowned Britain’s favourite bird back in 2015.
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Here are 8 interesting facts about these famously red breasted birds:
#1 Robins enjoy a varied diet of seeds, fruits, insects, worms and other invertebrates. They can be quite bold when searching for food, making friends with gardeners and looking out for worms in soil that’s being turned over.
#2 Despite the fact that they’re so widespread, a robin’s life expectancy is just 1.1 years. This is because mortality rates are high in the first year of life. A severe winter can have a terrible effect on the robin population. Bird tables with a regular supply of food can help.
#3 They may seem small and sociable but robins are aggressive when it comes to their territory. Males are quick to drive away intruders, fiercely attacking other males and sometimes even fighting to the death.
#4 We don’t really know how the robin came to be a symbol of Christmas. But we do know that robins can be found in our gardens all year round. They’re one of the only birds in the UK which can be heard singing on Christmas Day.
#5 Robins have been helping scientists with their research into magnetic fields. It’s thought that a specific substance in the birds’ eyes allows them to actually see the Earth’s magnetic field. This helps to explain how migratory robins from Northern Europe find their way south for the winter.
#6 Robins usually build their nest on or near the ground. They make use of sheds, kettles, boots, coat pockets and farm machinery – whatever nook or cranny they can find. They use nest boxes too, but only if they are open fronted and placed in a secluded location.
#7 Both male and female robins sing for most of the year. They take a break when they’re moulting and want to remain inconspicuous. Their song also changes throughout the year. In the spring, their song sounds powerful and lively. During the autumn it takes on a more subdued tone.
#8 Robins are active in the dimmest of light. They’re one of the first bird species to start singing in the morning and one of the last to stop in the evening. They can sometimes even be heard singing in the night, particularly if there are streetlights nearby.
Welcome robins to your garden with a well-stocked bird table or ground feeder and you’ll be treated to beautiful song all year round.
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6 Interesting British Insects to Spot in your Garden
Here are a few interesting British insects you can try to spot in your garden this year:
Common Darter Dragonfly
If you have a pond in your garden, you might be lucky enough to spot the common darter dragonfly. This species is very common in England, Ireland and Wales but less so in Scotland. Males have a red body. Females and juveniles have a pale green brown body. And you’re most likely to see them from June through to November.
Lacewings are a very beautiful and delicate looking insects. They have bright green bodies and lacy, transparent wings. They feed on aphids and other small insect pests, making them a firm friend of gardeners. Make them at home in your garden by providing a bug hotel, perfect for winter hibernation.
The magpie moth has striking markings. Wings are white with black spots and yellow stripes. It can be found throughout the UK (apart from the far north) from June to August. Adults drink nectar. When they’re in the caterpillar stage they love to feed on blackthorn, hawthorn and gooseberry bushes.
Ruby Tailed Wasp
Unlike the common black and yellow variety, these wasps have a ruby red abdomen and metallic colouring across the rest of the body. You’re most likely to find them running over walls and tree trunks from April to September as they look for the nests of solitary bees. Once they’ve found the perfect spot, they lay their eggs alongside those of the bee. Hatched larvae then eat the bee’s eggs before emerging from the nest in the spring.
The froghopper is a small, brown insect with the ability to jump many times its own length, sometimes up to 70cm. Their larvae can be found on plant stems, covered in a frothy coating. Larvae produce this froth to protect themselves from predators as they feed on leaves and shoots. Froghoppers are most often seen between June and September.
Stag beetles are the largest beetles in the UK. They can be found in the woodland and gardens of South East England from May to August. The stag beetle’s impressive head gear is used to attract a mate and to fight off rival males. Unfortunately, the stag beetle population has declined over recent years. We can help by providing logs and compost heaps in which they can hide, feed and breed.
So keep an eye out for these less common garden bugs this summer. And, create your own bug habitats if you’d like to attract more them.
How to Choose an Insect House
Insects are an essential part of the food chain. Some garden-friendly insects can also lend a hand to gardeners. Bees and butterflies help to pollinate our plants. Ladybirds and lacewings eat aphids. They’re an important part of any garden eco-system.
Well-kept gardens don’t always provide the damp, dark hiding places that bugs love to live in. But, even if you don’t want to place a pile of rotting wood or leaf litter in a corner of your garden, you can still provide a welcoming habitat for insects.
Many creepy crawlies will set up home in an insect house. These small and attractive garden additions allow you to look after your garden bugs without compromising on aesthetics. If you’d like to install an insect house in your garden, here are a few tips on what you should be looking for:
A Variety of Hidey Holes
Different insects look for different things in a home. Ladybirds like to hibernate in amongst dead wood. Lacewings look for a place with separated chambers. Solitary bees like hollow tubes that imitate the plant stems in which they usually lay their eggs. Your insect house should provide a variety of different sized holes, nooks and crannies if you’re to attract a wide selection of insects.
When choosing an insect house, you need to look for a sturdy structure that can stand up to the British weather. A roof needs to protect internal nooks and crannies from the rain – insect houses can be damp but not wet. You should also be able to secure your insect house to a wall or fence – you don’t want it to blow away in the wind.
Made from A Variety of Natural Materials
You’re much more likely to attract residents to your insect house if it’s made from natural materials. Bugs tend to look for homes that resemble their natural habitats. Wood and muted colours are a must. You can also look for insect houses that incorporate a number of different natural materials – pine cones, wood bark and straw are all appealing to different insect species.
Once you’ve chosen your insect house, be sure to place it in a cool, shady place that offers plenty of cover from predators. Fix the box firmly to a tree trunk, wall or post and wait for your garden creepy crawlies to take up residence. If it’s in the right place, your insect house should be full of life within a week or two.
How to Tell if You Have a Hedgehog in Your Garden
Hedgehogs are elusive creatures. Because they are nocturnal, you might not always know a hedgehog has taken up residence in your garden. If you suspect that a hedgehog might be wandering around your garden at night, look out for these tracks and signs:
Hedgehogs weigh around 1kg but they don’t leave footprints unless the ground is very soft. You could check muddy patches of the lawn and flowerbeds. Alternatively, set up your own footprint trap.
Prints are usually around 2.5cm long and 2.8cm wide. Both front and back feet have five toes but only four show up in tracks. Front footprints look like little handprints. Back footprints are longer and slimmer.
Hedgehog droppings are a sure fire sign you have hedgehogs in your garden. Their poo is usually quite dark in colour, due to their diet of beetles. And you may even be able to spot the exoskeletons of invertebrates packed within them. Droppings are usually found on their own and range in length from 15mm to 50mm.
Hedgehogs leave a trail as they move around. Look for areas of your garden where small tunnels have been forged through the undergrowth. If you suspect a hedgehog has set up home in your garden log pile or compost heap, you could place a few large leaves over the entrance in the evening and check to see if they’re still in place the following morning.
Hedgehogs make more noise than you might think. If you go outside at night time and listen carefully, you may be able to hear snuffling and shuffling in the undergrowth. Spring is an especially good time to hear hedgehogs in your garden. During this season males can get quite loud as they fight over females.
Install a Camera
These days, it’s possible to buy a wildlife camera that will help you to spot nocturnal garden visitors from the comfort and warmth of your own home. Night vision and motion activated cameras help you to easily see which animals are roaming your garden at night.
If you’d like to welcome hedgehogs into your garden, provide the best hedgehog food. Try to avoid these garden hedgehog hazards and provide a hedgehog thoroughfare, allowing hedgehogs to enter your garden from neighbouring properties. Then keep an eye and an ear out at night and early each morning to discover signs that hedgehogs are on the move.
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How to Encourage Birds to Nest in Your Garden
When birds come to nest in your garden, you get to see their life cycle from a ringside seat. You’ll hear beautiful birdsong as your garden birds woo one another. You’ll see nest building taking place. And you may even get to witness fledgling birds taking their first solo flight.
So how can you encourage birds to nest in your garden? Here are a few top tips:
Birds are attracted to gardens with a ready supply of food. They certainly won’t nest anywhere that doesn’t meet their basic needs. So that means providing bird food all year round. This could be a mix of bird seed, berries and fattier foods in winter months.
Ensure a Constant Water Supply
As well as food, birds need a reliable supply of drinking water. A bird bath or any shallow water-tight container will do the trick. You’ll need to change the water regularly to keep it clean. And remember that birds will feel much more comfortable taking a drink if they are in a raised position. That way they can easily spot any approaching predators.
Birds won’t want to visit your garden unless they feel safe. Perfectly manicured lawns, decking and bare fences don’t provide the cover from predators that birds look for. Provide some kind of shelter in the form of shrubs, trees and climbing plants. Hedgerows are another popular bird hideout if you have the space.
Maintain a Welcoming Bird Box
Birds can be pretty picky about where they choose to nest. This means just hanging a nest box isn’t necessarily enough to attract a courting pair. Put up nest boxes as early in the year as you can as birds sometimes scope out nesting spots during winter. And place them in a sheltered spot, away from feeders and the reach of cats.
Leave Out Nesting Materials
To really give nesting birds a helping hand, you can leave out some the materials they need to build strong, stable and cosy homes. You may be able to find wool scraps, feathers, twigs and even pet hair lying around the house. By forming these into a wreath or leaving them in an empty plant pot, you’ll provide a veritable DIY warehouse for nest builders.
Getting birds to nest in your garden means covering all of their needs. If your garden feels safe, provides food and water, and offers some cosy nesting spots, garden birds are much more likely to set up home there.