Bird aid

Bird aid is targetting three key species

Treesparrows, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings at various bird aid sites around West Oxfordshire.

Yellowhammer

These seed-eating birds have declined since farming practices have changed. Birds used to feed on seeds in the stubble fields over winter before ploughing in the spring, but fields are now ploughed immediately after the harvest.

Can you sponsor a bag of seed?

If so, please complete the form here and send your donation to Bird Aid, Wychwood Project (Oxfordshire), at the address top right of this page. The cheque should be made payable to the Wychwood Project (Oxfordshire). Every donation will be acknowledged.

Your financial support is needed now to keep the feeding stations going.

  • To feed one tonne of millet (1 year supply) costs £540 or £10 a bag
  • To feed one tonne of corn (1 year supply) costs £200 or £4 a bag
  • A tonne of seed feeds up to 1000 birds a year.
  • £500 will set up a new bird feeding station and will pay for seed, seed bins and bird feeders.
  • £700 per year will keep the existing feeding stations supplied with seed.

Bird Aid sites in West Oxfordshire desperately need funding to allow the current feeding stations to continue and new ones to be opened.

Over the past 8 years, Louise Spicer has organised 10 feeding stations on local farms. 20 volunteers distribute seed at these sites throughout the winter from October to early May. With valuable advice from RSPB, this venture has successfully attracted lots of Yellowhammers and on three sites even scarce Tree Sparrows and Corn Buntings. Many other birds also take advantage of the winter food at the feeding stations.

Bird Aid sites in West Oxfordshire

There are bird aid sites in Charlbury, Chipping Norton, Over Norton, Hailey and Crawley.  Other sites at Enstone, Finstock, Fawler and Witney have been tried but have not been successful for various reasons.

Bird watchers would be very welcome at some of these sites.  At present there about 20 volunteers but these are mainly involved in actual feeding - more bird watchers are needed from November to end of April.  In addition, people are needed to count birds on site.  If you would like further information on how to get involved please contact the Wychwood Project office.

If anyone wants to set up a feeding station in the Project area they are very welcome, and advice and support can be given but there is currently no funding for purchasing grain.

Update from Over Norton Park December 2016

This growing season was distinctly odd with a cold spring and dry summer, which meant the crops were slow to get going and the corn grains didn’t fill. Bushel weights were generally poor.  Our bird-seed plots were very weedy and in some patches the weeds overwhelmed the crop. However many weed seeds are excellent for small birds, the target of our efforts. So not all bad!

The margins and some fields are becoming botanically beautiful and species rich. We were visited this year by some county botanists to survey the plants and the count looked impressive, even though little of the farm was covered.  Part of one field at Walk Farm has become very exciting and colourful with swathes of Cowslips in spring followed by Oxeye daisies and Yellow Rattle on very thin, brashy limestone. The whole of that field has now been reverted to a Cotswold meadow with the inclusion of wild Sanfoin and, I hope, Pyramidal Orchids. The field has a few common Spotted Orchids and, in the last few years, plenty of Bee Orchids. The insect life in these fields is amazing and must provide ample feed for farmland bird chicks.

Stimulated and supported by the Wychwood Project Bird Aid, we focus on the small farmland specialist birds that have been in decline throughout Britain. We have been supplementary winter-feeding for nearly 13 years with what appeared to be excellent results. Last winter we commissioned a professional survey and report of winter bird numbers, which showed that the farm’s numbers were good and, unlike other Oxfordshire farms in HLS, the numbers increased through the winter to provide a ‘surplus’ to colonise other farms.  One swallow doesn’t make a summer though, so we are undertaking a 3-year study in conjunction with Ian Wilkinson, of Cotswold Seeds fame, to try and prove that tailored winter feeding is now essential for survival of the small birds. If we get this proof we may be able to influence Natural England’s policies and practices.

Birds doing particularly well are Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Tree and House Sparrows, Linnets, Reed Bunting, Greenfinches and Gold finches and are supported with plenty of good nest sites. The commoner garden/woodland birds are also doing very well with a lot of folk generously feeding in their gardens. Several Song Thrushes have been singing and securing winter territories, not to mention lots of Robins. Winter migrants are arriving in numbers and raptors abound, which shows there is ample prey about. Last winter we had a resident Peregrine Falcon; a great excitement. On the debit side we still have not managed to hold numbers of Corn Bunting or Grey Partridge and I’m not sure why.

Something else that seems to be bucking the national trend is our Hedgehogs. Sadly several have been squashed on the village road this year with almost none over the last decade. However I have identified 7 individuals coming to feed in our small garden and 2 underweight young have been caught and housed indoors for the winter. (They are smelly little beasts and don’t’ keep their beds clean!)  This all suggests that there are plenty on the farm to deal with the slugs.

Bird Aid Report 2016

2015/16 was mild and wet but turned cold with hard night frosts in April and May just when the birds would be getting ready to nest. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the breeding success of our farmland birds. It also meant that feeding had to continue until towards the end of May.

Bird Aid is now in its 13th year and core funding continued to be provided by two donors which meant that no funding was required by the Wychwood Project.  We also received individual donations from members of the Wychwood Project for which we are very grateful.

Ditchley Estate continues to support three local sites by providing two tons of tailings (left over seed and small grain); enabling the scheme to be of great benefit to large numbers of yellowhammers and other farmland birds.  In addition to the above the Ditchley Estate continues wild bird feeding on at least six sites throughout the year on the Estate.  Also more feeders have been set up containing mixed grains.  However due to various factors numbers of birds were considerably lower this winter.

An interesting new development during the winter months has been the commissioning of surveys of birds by Richard Broughton and Marta Maziarz at Honeydale Farm and Over Norton Farm (paid for by the owners).  This has established the importance of continuous supplementary feeding well into the spring and it is essential to continue until planted plots are proven to last into the spring  Large numbers of farmland seed-eating birds were supported on the farm at Over Norton particularly yellowhammers, chaffinches, linnets and lesser numbers of tree sparrows.  This is in contrast to other farms, both locally and in the wider context, as bird numbers at Over Norton remained relatively high into the late winter period.  Further work is planned to confirm the relationship between supplementary feeding and higher bird numbers.

Tree sparrow numbers have recovered to approx. one to two hundred at Walk Farm and 2 dozen at Park Farm but have not returned to their peak of 1,000.  It is possible that numbers are under-estimated in surveys as the birds skulk in hedges and are not put up as flocks from the feeding areas. Yellowhammer numbers have declined slightly on most sites, but corn buntings were not recorded at all.  This result reflects a national trend in the decline of this species.   Linnets, skylarks, reed buntings and goldfinches all continue to do well. Good numbers of bramblings were seen at various sites this year.

A new site was trialed at Chadlington but failed to attract any farmland birds – the feeding site will be relocated next autumn.

The farm at Shipton-under-Wychwood has had experimental bird seed plots planted to try and find a mix which will support the birds further through the winter months and into the spring. There is a resident population of farmland birds which declined during the winter as less food was available (supplementary feeding being limited).

The new site at Taston has been relocated to a more suitable position and is attracting a small flock of yellowhammers which we hope will increase in future years.

An exciting initiative was organized in January.  A field trip to Over Norton with the County Recorder gave volunteers and other enthusiasts a chance to learn about bird identification by sight and sound.  People were welcomed to participate in bird recording so that in future years we can build up a more comprehensive picture of the farmland birds in the Wychwood Project area.
Once again I would like to thank all our many volunteers who has made this initiative such a success and who give their time day in and day out whatever the weather.

Summary of feeding stations:
Over Norton, Glyme Farm Chipping Norton, Honeydale Farm Shipton-under-Wychwood, Ditchley Estate, Charlbury Broadstones and Quarry, Middle Farm Taston, The Paddocks and Bridge Cottage, Hailey and at Chadlington.  We are currently exploring the possibility of a new site at Churchill.                                                                                                                                                           Louise Spicer August 2016