Our positive intervention

2015 has been an active year for our garden birds, with some species increasing in numbers, while others still experiencing a worrying decline. In particular, much news has been made of the blackcap, which has, since the 1950s, appeared more frequently in gardens across the UK. This subtle, slow-burning migratory shift has seemingly affected the seasonal habitation of blackcaps, with a clear impact on their adaptation to surrounding environment changes, namely, in the case of the blackcap, the way in which they are fed and the availability of supplementary bird food. Human intervention can have a powerful influence of the survival or decline of many different animals. The blackcap is no exception.

What springs to mind is the legend of Heikegani, or Japanese Crab, symbolised by artificial, domesticated selection by fisherman over hundreds of years. The crab’s striking carapace resembles the ghostly appearance of a samurai warrior, the reincarnation of the Heike warriors. According to the legend, fishermen would cast back the Heike crab out of respect for the warrior. What was once a rare example in nature is now abundantly common.

But the point, and it is an important one, is that we do have the ability to slow down the decline, and even improve the number, of certain species of bird by providing readily available sustenance. This has happened with the Great Spotted Woodpecker, almost an institution in itself in the UK, with proud comportment, bold character and fanciful colours and patterns, and of course the beautifully outgoing goldfinch.

Despite these increases, there are still certain species of beloved garden birds that are experiencing an upsetting decline.

House sparrows, known for their gregarious and fearless behaviour, have been in decline since 1977. In fact, according to the BTO, numbers have declined by almost 71%. Reasons are many, and certainly well understood in the case of farmland habitation, but for urbanized areas there is still some disagreement. However, some argue that pollution, loss of nesting sites and increased predation are to blame.

Greenfinches have also been the focus of attention in recent years. The appearance of Trichomonosis, the highly infectious disease that is spread via saliva, originates from pigeons, but has clearly ‘jumped’ species to devastating effect. In 2006 alone, evidence suggests that around 500,000 greenfinches died because of Trichomonosis. Because of this, it is highly recommended to maintain good garden hygiene, for instance, by regularly cleaning your bird feeders and feeding sites.

Finally, the good news is that we can all help out and intervene positively in the lives of our garden birds: maintain clean and hygienic feeding space and use good quality bird food. The RSPB will, at the end of January, hold its annual Big Garden Birdwatch. In 2015, more than 8.5 million birds were counted, with encouraging results from blackbirds and wrens. You can help out by visiting www.rspb.co.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch.