Ringing begins at SDU

A young Great tit chick with a newly fitted ring at SDU, Denmark.

A young, partially feathered Great tit (musvit) chick with a newly fitted ring at SDU, Denmark. Photo: Jen Lynch

This week we began ringing the chicks which have been developing rapidly in the nest boxes surrounding the university at SDU in Odense. Almost all of our nest boxes are occupied, and we expect a similar number of chicks to last year (ca. 500!). There is an ideal time to ring the chicks, and we are watching carefully to try to visit the boxes at this time. Firstly it’s important the chicks legs are developed enough to hold the adult sized ring. Secondly it’s important that the chicks aren’t too big, as there is a risk of the young “exploding” from the nest if disturbed when close to naturally fledging.

The chicks are removed from the nest one by one, ringed and placed in a "bird bag" to keep them warm until it's time to return to the nest.

The chicks are removed from the nest one by one, ringed and placed in a cotton bag or “bird bag” to keep them warm and safe until it’s time to return to the nest.

Our team of monitors are keeping a close eye on the chicks development, and are at hand to assist in the bird ringing efforts too.

Farideh and Ellen during a nest box check in the woods

Farideh and Ellen during a nest box check in the woods

At this stage in development, ca. 10-15 days old, it’s possible to see the different stages of feather development. The feathers are first formed in a narrow thin tube or “pin” and they begin pushing out from inside this. In chicks, all feathers grow at the same time, which is different from adult birds, who replace feathers in specific sequence, so they can retain the ability to fly at the same time.

The partially feathered Great Tit (musvit) chick, is very unlike it's parents!

The partially feathered Great Tit (musvit) chick, is very unlike it’s parents!

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Orchids in bloom at SDU

I joined one of our dedicated nest monitors in the woods today to get up to speed on what’s happening in the secret lives of birds. Although the weather was overcast and wet, the sights and sounds in the woods were impressive, as always. Everything green appears to have bloomed in the last few days with the recent rainfall, and it must be said, the nest boxes are significantly more difficult to find! All is progressing very well with a number of nests with small chicks and females incubating eggs.

Sara smiles and checks in on some growing chicks in box 95

Phew we found it – Sara checks in on some growing chicks in box 95. Photo: Jen Lynch

There is always a lot to see in the woods, and if you look closely, there are some splashes of colour in the woods, especially in the wetter damper parts. Today we spotted some some Early purple orchids (Tyndakset Gøgeurt, Orchis mascula) in bloom right. [I’m not an orchid/flower expert, and will gladly accept comments or suggestions with relation to identification]. Although I knew orchids grew in the woods, it’s always a nice surprise to stumble across them during a bird walk or nest box check. Walking in the woods, there is a lot to take in, from bird song to wild flowers and mammals, sometimes the smaller things are missed!

Early purple orchid in bloom in the SDU woods

Early purple orchid (Tyndakset Gøgeurt) in bloom in the woods close to SDU (excuse the poor quality photo). Photo: Jen Lynch

There are 35 species of orchid in Denmark (depending on classification) and all species are protected. The Early purple orchid is found across Denmark, but only in a small number of places. Key ID featuers include the dark purple spots on the leaves, which are arranged lengthwise and the flowers smell of tomcat piss, believe it or not! To find out more about the distribution in Denmark and to see some better pictures, visit Danmarks Fugle og Natur andDK-orkiderer. For information in English visit this link.

Distribution in Denmark

Early purple orchid distribution in Denmark from 1950 – 2014. Source: Danmarks Fugle og Natur http://www.fugleognatur.dk

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Cuckoo at SDU

Cuckoo Photo: Wikipedia

Common Cuckoo (Gøg)  Photo: Wikipedia.

Yesterday I heard my first Cuckoo of the season, and luckily it was very close to SDU! I didn’t see the bird, but I have a good idea where it’s territory is. The months of May and June are the best time to hear and see these long distance migrants in Denmark.

I heard the Cuckoo singing around 16:00 on May 8th to the south east of the university close to the golf course.

The Cuckoo was singing around 16:00 on May 8th to the south east of the university close to the golf course. Google Maps

The Cuckoo (or Gøg) is famous for it’s exceptionally bad parenting skills. The female lays an egg in the nest of another bird (typically meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers), and leaves the unsuspecting bird to take care of it’s young. It’s a widespread breeding bird in Denmark with 20-40,000 breeding pairs reported in 2000 (DOF). Cuckoos return to Denmark and other European countries to breed after spending the winter in sub-saharan Africa.

A map from DOFBasen showing the reports of Cuckoo (Gøg) on Funen during the last week 2/5-9/5 2014

A map from DOFBasen showing the reports of Cuckoo (Gøg) on Funen during the last week 2/5-9/5 2014

The BTO in England has been tracking a number of cuckoos during their migration south in the autumn and north again in the spring, and have produced some really interesting maps where you can following the progress of the birds, as they move! If you happen to see or here a Cuckoo, you can report your sighting to the Danish Ornithological Sociey via their online database – DOFbasen. Keep your ears (and eyes) open!

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Exotic bird spotted at SDU!

Today I got a call explaining that small green parakeet (undulat) was feeding along the edge of the bike path between SDU and Munkerbjergvej. I came to the location as quickly as I could, with a net and a box with the hope that we could catch the bird, which had obviously escaped from a nearby home where it was formally a family pet.

The parakeet (undulat) looked very similar to this with green, yellow and blue feathers. Also known as a Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), shell parakeet and nicknamed the budgie.

The parakeet (undulat) looked very similar to this with green, yellow and blue feathers. Also known as a Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), shell parakeet and nicknamed the budgie.

The bird appeared quite tame but grew gradually more and more wary as we (Tanya and I) attempted to catch it. We tried “dropping” our coats on top of it and using the small net which I borrowed from the biology department. I also brought some bird food from home, as it was clearly hungry, but despite the birds obvious hunger, this didn’t help. We spent about an hour attempting to catch the bird, with the hope that it could be reunited with it’s owner. Unfortunately our efforts were fruitless and the bird flew off out of sight. It was clear the bird was completely unaware of the dangers of passing cyclists on the busy bike path from the university.

The parakeet was first spotted at A, and then after multiple attempts to catch it, it was last seen flying off at point B

The parakeet was first spotted at A, and then after multiple attempts to catch it, it was last seen flying off at point B

So if you are cycling in the area, please keep your eye out for a small green bird on the bike path. Also if you know anyone who lost their family parakeet in the area, let them know there is one flying free in the woods at SDU. They may know a good way to catch it, otherwise, who knows it may be able to survive out there like other species of parakeet (like Ring-necked parakeet) have done in London, Barcelona and many other large cities.

The Ring-necked Parakeet, a native of South America, has established a breeding population in London after a number of individuals escaped.

The Ring-necked Parakeet, a native of Africa and Asia, has established a breeding population in south east England after a number of individuals escaped or were released. Photo: BBC Nature.

If you spot the bird during your nest box checks, feel free to report it on SDU Birds.

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Hatching has begun!

Hatching has begun!

The first Great Tit (musvit) chicks have hatched at SDU! This happened sometime between 29th April and 2nd May in Box 101 which is located near entrance P under the noisy corvid colony at SDU. As you can see the chicks are born naked and blind, and completely dependent on their parents for both food and warmth. The adults will be very busy over the next ca. three weeks constantly bringing food to their 10 hungry chicks. When the chicks are around 10 days old, I will give each of them an small metal ring (like a passport, or CPR number) so we can identify them in the future. If you are currently monitoring nests, and come across a female sitting in the nest, try and look carefully to see if there are eggs or chicks hiding under her, and make a note of this, even if you can’t count them!

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Bird Ringing at SDU

The Wren (Gærdesmutte) is a common garden bird in Denmark, small but with an amazing song!

The Wren (Gærdesmutte) is a common garden bird in Denmark, small but with an amazing song! Photo: Jennifer Lynch

This week at the university I set up some mist nets, which are specially designed to catch small birds for ringing or banding. By catching the birds, and giving them individual lightweight metal rings, this allows us to recognize the birds again in the future and follow their progress. I was also hoping to catch some of the 500 chicks (Blue tit & Great tit) which were ringed last year while they were still in the nest boxes.

A male Blackbird (Solsort), the most common breeding bird in Denmark

A male Blackbird (Solsort), the most common breeding bird in Denmark. Photo: Jennifer Lynch

When a bird has been caught, a number of measurements can be made, including weight and wing length which can give us an indication about the health or fitness of the bird. All this information can be pieced together to give a picture of the health of the population and help identify any changes over time.

Redstart (Rødstjert) breed in Denmark and other northern countries in the summer and migrate to Africa to overwinter.

Redstart (Rødstjert) breed in Denmark and other northern countries in the summer and migrate to Africa to overwinter. (This is a male) Photo: Jennifer Lynch

Over two mornings at SDU I managed to catch a total of 23 birds, with 12 different species. These included both resident birds like Robin (Rødhals), Wren (Gærdesmutte) and Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Stor flagspætte) and some birds that migrate from Africa to breed in Denmark in the summer like Redstart (Rødstjert), Blackcap (Munk) and Chiffchaff (Gransanger).

Female Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Stor Flagspætte)

Female Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Stor Flagspætte). Photo: Rasmus Sloth Pedersen

Among them were 2 Great tits (Musvit) and 2 Blue tits (Blåmejse). The females were clearly breeding, as they had developed a large “brood patch”. This is a naked, featherless patch on the belly, which allows the birds to transfer as much heat as possible to the eggs during incubation.

By blowing on the feathers on the stomach you can reveal the female Blue Tits brood patch

By blowing on the feathers on the stomach you can reveal the females brood patch, which allows her to transfer her body heat to the eggs she is incubating. Photo: Jennifer Lynch

 Among the 23 birds I caught, I did manage to catch one bird with a ring already on it’s leg. It was a Great tit with ring 9Z15066. After the ringing session I checked my records from last year and I could see that this birds was ringed as a chick in box 57 in the north west part of the woods (Area 6), one of the closest boxes to Bilka!

A female Mallard (Gråand) was a nice surprise in the net

A female Mallard (Gråand) was a nice surprise in the net. Photo: Jennifer Lynch

One bird I didn’t really expect to catch was this female Mallard, who I found walking around in the bottom of the net. The nets I used are specifically designed to catch small birds, but can in some cases catch larger birds too! She also received a ring, and was released to join her mate, who wasn’t far away. I will be carrying out more ringing around the campus during the summer months, so if you would like to come along and see how it works, keep an eye on our Facebook page.

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Barn Swallows are back!

 

Barn Swallows (landsvale) at SDU 17/4/2014 close to entrance B/C.

Barn Swallows (landsvale) spotted at SDU 17/4/2014 close to entrance B/C. Photo: Jennifer Lynch

On the 17th of April, after visiting some nest boxes in the southern part of the woods I spotted my first Barn Swallows (landsvale) of the year flying low over the fields next to the university in Odense. As I had been carrying out daily checks of their usual nesting spots, with the attempt of recording the precise day they returned, I was eagerly awaiting their return! After spotting this individual close to entrance N I headed down along the underpass near entrance B/C where they usually nest. This appears to be a favourite spot, and I was happy to find two Barn Swallows sitting on a large circular air vent chattering away. The “twittering warble” is very typical and continued for some time!

In total I spotted 3 individuals, who will hopefully soon start building new nests or refurbishing old nests in preperation for egg laying. This year I signed up as a volunteer nest recorder for a Barn Swallow project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so I will be regularly monitoring the birds behaviour over the next few months. The study aims to look at the effects of artificial light on Barn Swallow breeding and is run in connection with Globe at Night. If anyone is interested in coming along to find out more about Barn Swallows, please get in touch via Facebook at the SDU Birds page. Or if you would like to send any observations, please do so via Facebook too!

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No holidays for the birds!

Many females, both Great tits and Blue tits have begun incubating eggs in the nest boxes around the woods during the Easter break. The majority of boxes appear to be occupied, with nests, and a large proportion of these have eggs. It looks like we are going to have a busy season, especially when it comes to ringing when the chicks start hatching! The females will incubate the eggs for 13-15 days and both species attempt to time the hatching of the chicks with a peak in food availability (mainly small green caterpillars). It will be really interesting to see how things progress over the next few weeks. Here are some photos taken recently in the woods by our team of nest monitors. Keep up the great work everyone!

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The birds breding in this box decided to use cigarette buts to lune their nests, an interesting form of recycling! Photo: Anja Maria Liljenström‎

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10 Great tit eggs, in a nest lined with roe deer hair. Photo: Owen Jones

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A female Blue tit, with blue head and white forehead, incubates her eggs in a nest lined with Wood Pigeon feathers. Photo: Simeon Smeele

 

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A large egg was discovered on bare ground nest to the base of a tree. Currently unidentified, possibly Mallard? Photo: Sara Elisabeth Nielsen

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The Roe deer in the woods are difficult to photograph, but leave nice footprints in the soft mud. Photo: Owen Jones

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A ladybird takes shelter on top of a nest box. Photo: Owen Jones

 

Owen Jones_2

Spring is evident on the forest floor also – possibly Oxlip (Fladkravet Kodriver). Photo: Owen Jones

Information on Oxlip in Denmark (in Danish) – http://www.fugleognatur.dk/artsbeskrivelse.asp?ArtsID=2757

 

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How to tell what species have moved in?

At SDU the breeding season is in full swing with numerous eggs being laid every single day in 100+ nest boxes in the woods surrounding the university in Odense (Denmark). The birds begin building their nests with moss, twigs and strips of grass and are adding the finishing touches with hair, wool and anything soft and fluffy they can find. The next thing to appear is the eggs. The boxes we are using have an entrance size of 32mm, which restricts larger birds like woodpeckers (stor flagspætte) and sparrows (spurve) from using them. Our most common residents are Great tits (musvit) and Blue tit (blåmejse), but in theory we could find other species using the boxes, like Marsh tit (sumpmejse), Coal tit (sortmejse) and maybe even Nuthatch (Spætmejse).

Great Tit (musvit) eggs are 18x14mm, pale in colour with brownish spots, usually concentrated at one end, but this is variable.

Great Tit (Musvit) eggs are 18 x 14mm, pale in colour with brownish spots, usually concentrated at one end, but this is variable. Photo: Jens Oluf Hansen

If you are new to nest monitoring, it is tricky to see the difference in the eggs, as they are very similar in appearance but vary slightly in size. Great tit eggs are slightly larger at 18 x 14 mm with Blue tit eggs measuring 16 x 12 mm. We don’t expect anyone to attempt to measure the eggs, but with a little training your eye may start to “spot” the smaller or larger eggs. Once the female has finished laying her clutch of eggs, she will being to incubate the eggs. This takes between 13 and 15 days for both species, and during this period the female will remain in the nest and only leave briefly to feed (keep an eye out for the male bringing her food!). During the nest checks it’s important to avoid disturbing her, so keep the checks as brief as possible. This is, however, the best time to determine what species is using the nest. When you open a nest box, this is what you might see:

Great tit on nest

Great Tit – recognized by the shiny black head, contrasting white cheeks, greenish back and bluish grey tail feathers. Photo: Jens Oluf Hansen.

Great tit in nest

Another female Great Tit attempts to cover chicks this time (see small yellow beaks under her). Again black head, white cheeks and greenish back. Photo: Jens Oluf Hansen.

Blue tit on nest

Blue Tit – identified by the blue head and contrasting white forehead and cheeks. Also visible blue eye stripe. Back, wing and tail feathers more blue than black/grey. Photo: Jens Oluf Hansen.

If you are patient and have a little extra time during your nest box checks you can stand a short distance from the nest box and watch the birds coming and going. They are most active during the nest building phase and when they have small hungry mouths to feed. While watching here’s what you might see (bring binoculars for a good view!):

Great tit (musvit) with the key identification features. Photo: Wikipedia

Great tit (musvit) with the key identification features. Photo: Wikipedia

Blue tit (Blåmejse) with some of the key identification features

Blue tit (Blåmejse) with some of the key identification features. Photo: Rasmus Sloth Pedersen

Both the BTO and the Danish Ornithological Society have some really detailed information on both Great tits (musvit) and Blue tits (blåemejse). And they provide links to the sounds they make, which can help in identification with some practice. Good luck!

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Great start to the new season!

The 2014 nest box monitoring season is off to a great start! We had good attendance at our information talk on March 7th at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and recruited some keen new volunteers. At the end of March we set up 6 teams, and divided the 100+ nest boxes among them.

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Kamilla checks box 61, close to the Biology department at entrance N. Photo: Jennifer Lynch

Each team has 2/3 nest monitors, and visits are made to each box two times per week. The first big challenge is to learn where all the nest boxes are located. Thankfully this is relatively straightforward in spring, before the leaves appear on the trees!

Leticia fills out the data recording sheet while checking box 60, located between the main reception and Bilka

Leticia fills out the data recording sheet while checking box 60, located between the main reception and Bilka. Photo: Rodrigo Alves

At the moment the Great Tits (Musvit) and Blue Tits (Blåmejse) are busy building nests, made from moss, small twigs, grass, wool and hair. The birds will also add any soft fluffy material which is available in the surroundings. It’s always interesting to see what birds have used to line their nests!

One of the first eggs in the SDU Nest Box scheme was laid in Box 13 - which was also an early starter last year.

One of the first eggs in the SDU Nest Box scheme was laid in Box 13 – which was also an early starter last year. Photo: Ellen Kirkeby

Last weekend (April 5th) the first egg was laid, and we expect the other nests to catch up quickly. Great Tits (musvit) and Blue Tits (blåmejse) can lay up to 14-16 eggs, but the average is closer to 9-10. While out in the woods, our nest monitors are keeping their eyes open for other signs of nature.

Mystery nest spotted in Area 3, south of the university close to the golf course

A mystery nest was spotted in Area 3, south of the university close to the golf course. Photo: Sara Elisabeth Nielsen

Simeon and Rie stumbled acorss a group of small frogs in the wettest part of the woods

Simeon and Rie stumbled across a group of small frogs in the wettest part of the woods. Photo: Rie Pors

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