Rachel Shaw: Don’t scare the birds, let them rest

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Picture a jogger running along a beach, to many of us this might be something we aspire to but when it’s on an internationally important nature reserve and the jogger is heading towards a flock of birds resting on the shoreline, it fills the on looking wardens and volunteers with dread. As the jogger approaches, the birds take flight. There are hundreds of birds in the air.

It might seem harmless. Birds fly, that’s what they do. But imagine you are snoozing on your sofa after an exceptionally busy day and someone crashes into your room, forces you to get up and makes you run around. Forcing birds into flight while they are resting makes them use precious energy resources.

The flock of birds on the beach disturbed by the jogger were knot, a smallish dumpy bird with a long beak and grey plumage. Not particularly distinctive but what is amazing is where they have come from.

These birds on the Lincolnshire coast have recently arrived from their breeding grounds in the Arctic. They weigh just 140 grams, have a wingspan of about 59cm and can fly thousands of miles.

It’s a long and arduous journey. Once they have arrived on our coast, they need to rest and refuel. Every calorie of energy used has to be replaced with food eaten. For birds, and other animals, food can be much harder to come by than it is for us, especially in winter.

A person running or walking too close, or a dog running into a flock, causes birds to take flight. Repeated ‘flushing’ into the air can deplete their energy levels, reducing their chances of survival.

At this time of year, tens of thousands of birds are on the move including waders, like the knot, as well as ducks, geese and many smaller birds. Some are leaving, heading south for Africa.

As the temperatures fall, insects are less readily available as a food source. Those birds that specialise in eating insects such as swallows and warblers are forced to fly south. Others are arriving here to escape the freezing winters of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Russia and continental Europe where the ground can be snow covered and lakes frozen over for longer periods of time.

It’s not just on the coast, migrating birds will be arriving inland too ready to spend the winter months in our relatively mild climate. On lakes and wetlands like Whisby Nature Park, our resident population of familiar mallard ducks and black and white tufted ducks are joined by other species of duck: pochard from eastern Europe and Russia, teal from around the Baltic and Siberia and wigeon from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.

In the wider countryside, redwings and fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia and feast on hawthorn berries in hedges. Flocks of lapwings gather in fields. Although lapwings do breed in the UK, their numbers are swelled by birds migrating here from northern Europe. Even our own gardens may host migrating birds. Common birds such as robins and blackbirds are resident all year round, in winter are joined by migrating robins and blackbirds that have flown here from Germany and eastern Europe.

Remember, please don’t scare birds into flight, let them rest.