Birds and gardens: perfect partners by Dr. Alick Jones


Doctor Jones is an experienced gardener and an ornithologist. He spent over three years working in Liverpool parks and gardens, organizing the planting of shrubs and cultivating park lawns etc. He is also an active member of The British Trust for Ornithology. The Trust carries out weekly surveys of birds all year round, with 12,000 members submitting data to their headquarters at Fakenham in Norfolk. These surveys have highlighted some surprising shifts in bird populations in recent years,

The number of bullfinches is on the increase. Previously, because they destroyed the buds on fruit trees they were persecuted, however this practice has now been banned. The population of blackbirds and thrushes is falling due to agricultural intensification, furthermore, blackbirds also suffer a high mortality rate in their first year.

Bluetit populations have increased in abundance and this is a long term trend. This is due mainly to food provision in gardens and nesting boxes, which may reduce predation. Bluetits lay ten eggs over a ten day period and each chick devours about 100 caterpillars per day! They have a twelve month lifespan.

Most birds prefer earthworms to snails. They benefit from the shelter of bushes, shrubs, trees and wall plants. Such variation of facilities for nesting sites aids breeding and survival. Gardens make up 10% of available land in the UK.

Other points of interest relating to specific breeds are:-
– Blackbirds do not have yellow beaks at birth.
– Waxwings arrive from Scandinavia and many have been ringed in NE Scotland.
– The fieldfare also arrives from Scandinavia and is a winter visitor to the UK. It loves apples and Dr Jones suggested that we do not remove fallen apples but leave them in a heap for the birds.
– Goldfinches, like sparrows. live around houses and their numbers are on the increase. They love sunflower hearts.
– The chaffinch population is steady. They inhabit gardens in Spring and move to the fields in Summer.

Parakeets are spreading in the South. They have been spotted in Basingstoke!!
Magpies do not contribute to population decline, CATS do.

In order to encourage birds in our gardens it is recommended that we instal feeders and nesting boxes. The decline in the house sparrow numbers may be due to more secure houses, hence there are fewer nesting sites. The positioning of nesting boxes is important. Furthermore, bird baths are vital. Keep them clean and free from ice in winter. Wood pigeons and starlings often use them as toilets, thus spreading diseases.

Much data is collected by the BTO and this information is shared with the RSPB.

Dr. Jones ended his talk on a positive note regarding the future of our feathered friends and received much applause for delivering such an absorbing lecture.