More on Urban Birds

Roger and I always make note of which urban birds are nesting where while we are putting up Swift boxes. On Friday last week our first stop was a newish estate at Hedge End on the eastern outskirts of Southampton. These houses were built in about 1997.

A house in Hedge End with uPVC eaves
A house in Hedge End with uPVC eaves

When originally constructed the eaves were made of timber but many have now been replaced or overclad with uPVC, like here, which excludes all birds and leaves no nesting opportunities for our urban birds. On this house the owners, Hazel and Len, wanted two Swift boxes and a call player which Roger duly installed. It is so heartening when people realise the effect that the installation of plastic fascias and soffits is having on our urban bird populations that they are prepared to put their hand in their pockets to put up boxes to help save them. Without this our urban birds will continue their inexorable and catastrophic decline.

Swift box installation to mitigate the replaced eaves
Swift box installation to mitigate the replaced eaves

There were however several House Sparrows still nesting on the adjacent house which still had the original timber fascias and bargeboards. There were at least two pairs that I could see nesting on the front of the property as shown in the photo below.

House Sparrow nests on adjacent house
House Sparrow nests on adjacent house with timber fascias

But of course, once the owners decide to have them overclad with uPVC that will be the end of another House Sparrow colony for good. Unless they take the easy step of cutting holes in the soffits as I outlined on an earlier blog about houses in Eastleigh.

And there were also several starlings flying around - we spotted a pair on the house opposite that were entering their nest over the gutter and under the bottom row of tiles. Due to their shape, pantiles like these need to have a baffle fitted underneath the bottom row to stop birds entering. There are various types of these baffles but in this instance they were made of plastic spikes which become brittle and break over time, sometimes allowing access to birds. Of course in this instance it would never be used by Swifts as they would never be able to negotiate their way in or out of the gutter. I only know of one site where it’s reported to have Swifts that enter their nest sites over the top of the gutter and that is at Stanmore, Winchester. I haven’t seen this myself yet but hope to do so during the next month and will blog about this when I have more information and photos. I’m told that the roof construction there is different as the existing roof has been overlayed with insulated panels so perhaps the nest entrances are higher above the gutter level.

While we were there a Sparrowhawk came and sat on the garage roof of the house we were working on before chasing off down the road after a House Sparrow – I expect the hawk also had young to feed.

Sparrowhawk on the roof
Sparrowhawk on the roof

There is ample citizen science that clearly shows that loss of nesting sites is the overwhelming cause of the decline of Swifts, and that putting up Swift nest boxes and installing Swift bricks can create the opportunity for our urban bird species to recover.

So the question remains, when will scientists wake up to this simple fact? Until they do there will be no chance of getting our government to do the right thing and make it mandatory for developers to install universal bird bricks in all new properties at an average rate of one per dwelling.

So, to all scientists studying our urban birds, this is on you. Please stop being a part of the problem, and get this sorted as a matter of URGENCY.

And a big thank you to Hazel and Len for doing the right thing – and for the cups of tea.

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