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Birds in the Lagan Valley
The woods, meadows, wetlands, parks and farms along the River Lagan are alive with wildlife.

The incredible variety includes many of the most endangered birds in the UK and Ireland. We’re working to protect these birds and other wildlife to prevent further declines and make the Regional Park a safe place for them to feed and breed. 


A helping hand
Laganscape engaged in a major bird conservation programme with the RSPB, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A survey was carried out to identify the birds in the Park and find out if any of them need protection.  A plan was developed for their recovery and our aim is to improve prospects for vulnerable birds by using simple methods easily put in place by the Park's partners, including homeowners, farmers and councils.

'The incredible variety includes many of the most endangered birds in the UK and Ireland.'

The recovery project ran from 2009-12 and involved selecting locations for nest boxes, choosing specialised nest boxes and tunnels for each species and organising their construction and installation.

Ongoing work includes surveys to identify future nest box locations, monitoring progress, protecting sites and relocating boxes where necessary.

Park rangers and volunteers worked with local landowners, builders and homeowners in environments ranging from woodlands to wetlands and waterfronts, old buildings and water meadows. Close to 140 nest boxes and nest tunnels were installed.

In addition, two hectares of ’giant bird tables' were planted.

A giant bird table?
Let us explain. They're large areas which have been sown with seed-rich plants such as oats, barley, flax and wildflowers. Instead of being harvested, they're left over the winter to create pockets of seed rich areas that birds like linnets, tree sparrows and yellowhammers can eat during the coldest months of the year when food is scarce.

Long grasses also provide food and shelter for many small animals that barn owls eat. The wildflowers attract insects which in turn feed the swallows and swifts over the summer.

We'll review the seed mix and planting methods to make sure we get the best results and continue to assess locations. You can check out our wild meadows at Laganlands East, Lagan Meadows and McIlroy Park.

Taking action
Here's a list of what we have done so far:

We've installed nest boxes for swifts under the eaves of the RSPB HQ Belvoir Park Forest.
Installed nest boxes for lots of other birds along the towpath and woodlands.
Planted wildflower areas.

We also found the following birds in the park. 'Species recovery action plans' have been created.

Barn owl
With heart shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white under parts, the barn owl is a distinctive and much loved countryside bird. This mainly noctural owl has suffered declines over the past fifty years as a result of the degradation of once prey-rich habitats due to intensive agriculture.

It can be seen in open country, along field edges, riverbanks and roadside verges all year round, especially at dusk when they are hunting.  Barn owls eat mice and shrews.
Barn owls tend to use traditional nesting sites, holes in trees, or undisturbed buildings such as barns and outbuildings or ruins and suitable nestboxes.  Breeding success depends on the availability of main prey species. Average clutch size is 4 and the young birds fly at 50-55 days.  Barn Owls can live as long as 17 years.



Kingfisher
The symbol of Lagan Valley Regional Park and one of its more shy residents.  Kingfishers are small unmistakable bright blue and orange birds which fly rapidly low over water, and hunt fish from riverside perches, occasionally hovering above the water's surface. They are vulnerable to hard winters and loss of habitat through pollution or unsympathetic management of watercourses.

 

Kingfishers can be seen year round and are generally found by still or slow flowing water such as lakes, canals and rivers in lowland areas which are clean enough to support abundant small fish. Branches overhanging shallows make essential fishing perches. Kingfishers nest in riverbanks, excavating a nest burrow with a chamber at the end. 
Kingfishers are very short-lived. Although only a quarter survive to breed the following year, this is enough to maintain the population. 

House sparrow
Noisy and gregarious, these cheerful exploiters of man's rubbish and wastefulness are now struggling to survive, along with many other once common birds. They are clearly declining in gardens and the wider countryside.
House sparrows feed and breed near people and can be seen anytime of the year in towns, villages, countryside and residential areas of cities.  Seeds and scraps are their regular diet.

You can spot newly independent young in large flocks where there is an abundance of seed and other suitable foods, such as areas of wasteland and hayfields rich in grass and weed seeds. Later, flocks move on to grainfields to feed on the ripening grain, where they are joined by the adults who have finished nesting.
Lack of food and nest sites, especially in the country, seem to be factors in their decline. 

Spotted flycatcher
Harder to spot these days due to recent dramatic population decline, but look out for a grey-brown bird with an off-white breast, streaked with darker grey and a streaked forehead. Flycatchers like to perch conspicuously and watch for passing insects, flying out to snap them up, before returning to the perch.

 

Best looked for along woodland edges and in parks and gardens. These seasonal visitors mainly arrive in May, and leave again in July and August, with a few passing through in September. 

Swifts
This superb flier eats, hunts insects and even sleeps on the wing! In flight against the sky the medium-sized brown swift appears black. Distinctive features are the long, scythe-like wings and short, forked tail. Swifts are summer visitors from Africa, arriving in April and departing again in August.
Spot them high in the sky.  You might see excited screaming parties careering madly at high speed around rooftops and houses, especially towards dusk.

The birds never perch, leaving the air only to nest.  Swifts pair for life, meeting up each spring at the same nest site, usually located high in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds are able to drop into the air from the nest entrance. The modernisation of many buildings has resulted in loss of nesting sites.

Amazing facts:
• After leaving the nest, they'll keep flying non-stop for three years!
• They eat, mate and sleep in the air - they can 'snooze' with one side of their brain at once, and then switch to the other side
• Parent swifts gather insect snacks for their chicks, carrying as many as 1,000 at once.
• Swifts like to live in our houses and churches - they squeeze through tiny gaps to nest inside roofs

Tree sparrows
Smaller than a house sparrow and more active, with its tail almost permanently cocked. It has a chestnut brown head and nape and white cheeks and collar with a contrasting black cheek-spot. They are shyer than house sparrows and not associated with man. Best looked for in hedgerows and woodland edges all year round.

Yellowhammer
Males are unmistakeable with a bright yellow head and underparts, brown back streaked with black, and chestnut rump. In flight it shows white outer tail feathers. Often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Its recent population decline make it a Red List species. Look for the yellowhammer year round in open countryside with bushes and hedgerows.

Reed bunting
Sparrow-sized but slim and with a long, deeply notched tail, the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache. Females and winter males have a streaked head. In flight the tail looks black with broad, white edges. This farmland and wetland bird suffered a serious population decline making it a Red List species.

Typically found in wet vegetation but has recently spread into farmland and, in winter, into gardens. When singing the male is usually perched on top of a bush, or reed.

Linnet
A small, slim finch, widely distributed, and once very popular as a cage bird because of its melodious song. Males are attractively marked with crimson foreheads and breasts, females much browner. It can be flighty and has an undulating flight, usually twittering as it flies.
Look and listen for it year round on heathland, rough ground, farmland hedges, saltmarshes and in parks and gardens.

Skylark
The skylark is a small brown bird, streaky brown with a small crest, which can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed, and a white-sided tail. The wings also have a white rear edge, visible in flight. It is renowned for its display flight, vertically up in the air.

Skylarks like open countryside, from lowland farmland to upland moorland. Often inconspicuous on the ground, it is easy to see when in its distinctive song flight. Skylarks advertise their territories by a spectacular song-flight, during which the bird rises almost vertically with rapid wing-beats, hovering for several minutes and then parachuting down. Song flights of up to one hour have been recorded, and the birds can reach 1,000 feet before descending.

Skylarks are ground-nesting birds and will breed from April to early August in tall grass and cereal fields.  Population declines seem to be due to the change in cereal planting toward autumn sown crops.