I really shouldn’t respond to this kind of thing, but the stupidity and utter ignorance of this one is really, really annoying me. I’m not a birder, I’m not even a member of the RSPB. However, all regular readers will know that I have a reasonable knowledge of, and love deeply, the countryside and wildlife around me. This deep affection for the natural environment runs very, very deep. I love to see birds, plants, animals and all manner of species around me. Being able to observe these things is one of the joys of cycling.
Occasionally, I hear the old canard that songbirds are dying out because of the proliferation of magpies, who kill them. On other occasions, I’ve been told that the unchecked hawk population is killing them. In short, I’m getting really, really fed up with this ignorance. There was a really good example of this in the Express & Star this week.
So what is really behind the decline in songbirds? I’ll tell you right here. We are. Humans.
Songbirds have lived in symbiosis with their natural predators – be they raptor, corvid or mammal – for much longer than humans have been around. The constant struggle for life has been ongoing. It’s part of the natural order. As populations of predators rise, so they will consume more of their prey, food will become scarce, and their numbers will thin. With less predators, the prey will increase in number. This gentle, natural fluctuation is part of evolution, part of nature and has been occurring between all prey and predators since the whole thing began. Into this mix there are the natural effects of good and bad seasons, transitory disease outbreak and so on. Not even the RSPB, in all it’s power, can moderate that.
What has happened in the UK is a huge increase in human occupation, and a huge shift in the way we and agriculture use land. Crops are now genetically pure, dusted for insects and unsupportive of most of the things that songbirds require. We’ve lost many, many miles of hedgerows. Copses and woods have declined in number and size. Our gardens have been asphalted, slabbed, blocked and decked over. We manicure them into shape, and spray the things we do grow against bugs and weeds. We keep, in huge numbers, cats. Cats, fed daily, prey at will on birds and small mammals. I like cats, I love them to bits, but it’s true.
The simple truth, Mr. or Mrs. Mallen, is that there are very few habitats left. As a country, our songbirds are at the last chance saloon. We have driven them out of house and home, starved them of their diets and presented them with a furry enemy they’ve never quite been prepared for.
Instead of handwringing and blaming a charity who are actually telling the truth, feed your birds. Provide them with cover. Let a bit of garden grow wild, to encourage the bugs, leatherjackets and creepy crawlies that may of our birds love. Hang up fat balls, niger seed feeders and sunflower hearts. Blackbirds love fruit, raisins and cheap fruitcake crushed to crumbs. Grow shrubs like catoniaster, whose orange berries, laden with sugar, blackbirds will guard. Put out dried mealworms for your robins.
Occasionally, you’ll see a sparrowhawk. If you’re lucky, you’ll see it strike; they have to survive too. Your bird table will be barren for a week or so, but the birds will return. I love all the wild birds, and there are few things more beautiful than raptors in action. Please don’t listen to the ignorance – the birds are dying by our own hand, and it’s up to us to sort it out as best we can.