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Nature Notes - August 2016

Nature Notes

One would not have thought that feeding birds would be controversial.  Some kind generous people do it to help the birds and bring them into their gardens and this gives the householder pleasure.  However, it has become controversial because it sometimes has unexpected consequences.  Herring Gulls are a declining species and have protection.  People have been sharing their fish and chips and sandwiches with them for years.  However, many Gulls now believe they have a right to the food of Humans, and have developed the skills to steal food from people who do not wish to share it.  Therefore they have now become unpopular and there have been calls to control them.

Other people feed the feral pigeons that are the descendants of Rock Doves once caught from the rocky cliffs in wild places and taken into captivity for racing and carrying messages. Many subsequently become feral and then breed on buildings in towns and cities and scrounge food from wherever they can, but the more they are fed, the more they breed and eventually become a problem.  Calls to control them also arise.  I have also heard of folk feeding ducks, which waddle across a busy road from their pond to the garden to get the food putting their lives at risk.

I feed birds in my garden on a bird table because we have neighbours cats visiting frequently which hunt birds.  No I am not feeding the cats by doing this because it has been discovered that gardens where birds are regularly fed lose fewer birds to cats than gardens that do not provide food.  This may sound paradoxical, but the reason is simple.  Each bird has two eyes, so provision of food results in both a) birds not having to search for scarce food, and b) many more pairs of vigilant avian eyes in the garden.  The result is that it only takes one bird to spot the cat, it will then alarm and all the others will recognise that call and know the cat is there and will avoid getting caught.

Another issue is the type of food.  I believe peanuts are a bad idea for two reasons; one because peanuts are an alien food from South America and our birds may like them but if they try to feed the nuts to their nestlings, the young birds sometimes choke on them and die.  Also, I have heard recently that peanuts attract badgers to gardens that at first seems like a nice idea, until they start digging for worms in the lawn and burrowing under fences and creating smelly latrines everywhere.

Dr. Martyn Stenning