Earlier this year we dug a 60m strip of bare earth as part of a project to help Turtle Doves.
The RSPB’s Turtle Dove Conservation Officer had visited the meadows at the beginning of the year and was happy that we had a nearby freshwater source, dense prickly vegetation for nesting and enough clover, vetches and other food plants to provide seeds for the birds but needed an area with a large percentage of bare earth for them to forage.
It is thought that a large part of these birds’ catastrophic recent decline is that they arrive in the UK in Spring but do not put weight on quickly enough to get into breeding condition in time to have several broods each year. They struggle to have have just one and that is not enough to keep the population stable.
To help with this, the RSPB has this week provided us with 50kg of bird food, especially formulated with Turtle Doves in mind. It is 10% Wheat, 35% Oil Seed Rape, 35% Feed White Millet, 10% Canary Seed and 10% Sunflower Hearts.
The plan is that we thinly spread out 6kg of this seed over the bare earth once a week for 8 weeks, starting the first week of May as the birds arrive in the UK and finishing at the end of June when there should be lots of seed around naturally.
Above is one of the bags of the seed with the 6kg for the first week decanted out into the two plastic boxes – 6kg is a lot of seed.
We worked along the strip, broadcasting by hand and letting the seed trickle through our fingers. If uneaten seed builds up, there is a risk that it will start to harbour pathogens causing more harm than good to the birds and so for that reason, we spread the seed very thinly and consistently evenly.
Another worry is that uneaten seed will germinate, leaving us with wheat, rape, and even sunflowers growing along the strip. To reduce the potential problem of this, we spread the seed half on the short grass bordering the strip where, even if the seeds germinated, competition with the other plants would be huge for the new seedlings. Then we spread seed only halfway across the bare earth because it is here that germinated seed has a much better chance of establishing and causing us trouble.
We managed to release four cameras from their duties elsewhere in the meadows and have redeployed them along the strip to see what happens next.
This is a leap of faith for us because we have not seen Turtle Dove here before. And it may well be that all this doesn’t catch their eye as they fly over but, if that is the case, there are many other birds of conservation concern that will also benefit from this food: Grey Partridge, Skylark, Linnet and Yellowhammer are all regulars here. A Linnet was even watching us as we worked:
It was a beautiful afternoon and we don’t spend much time lying around enjoying it but now, job done for this week, seemed like a really good opportunity….