Blackbirds go to war over apples

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last weekend’s snow brought a feeding frenzy to my back garden from the local bird population and it kept me busy just keeping the feeding stations topped up with food.

Such was the demand after the snow was forecast that my local fruit shop completely sold out of peanuts on Friday, after just restocking that morning!

Most numerous garden visitors were the blackbirds, whose number has been greatly enhanced by foreign birds.

I have two apples pegged to the ground, purely for them, and they can polish them off in a couple of hours, leaving only the skin. I try to spread the food over as wide an area as possible to avoid conflict, as fighting is a serious waste of energy when conditions are cold and every ounce of it is vital for survival.

Blackbirds are the most quarrelsome and I am always amused at how they tolerate other much smaller species depriving them of food, but any other blackbird approaching within six inches gets jumped on.

If these conditions last until next weekend it should make for a decent species count in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Almost 600,000 people across the UK took part in Big Garden Birdwatch in 2012 and between them counted more than 9million birds.

To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time over the weekend, noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time.

They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post. Now in its 34th year, the survey provides the RSPB with an important snapshot of garden bird populations in winter and has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in UK garden birds.

In the first survey in 1979, an average of 15 starlings were seen per garden, but that fell to an average of just three starlings per garden in 2012, the lowest level ever. House sparrow numbers have fallen by two thirds over the lifetime of the survey too.

Sarah Houghton, RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch manager, said: ‘Everyone who takes part in Big Garden Birdwatch is contributing to the world’s biggest wildlife survey and helping us learn more about some of our most familiar garden birds.

‘The decline of birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years or so has been alarming, but Big Garden Birdwatch has helped us find out more about their numbers and distribution across UK gardens, and that has been the first step in helping to put things right.’

Some bird species have fared considerably better over the years. Sightings of popular species like blue tits, great tits and coal tits in gardens have increased since 1979. Goldfinches, which were absent from the Big Garden Birdwatch top 15 in the early years, have featured regularly as a top 15 species since 2004.

With bramblings and waxwings still around in the Borders this year, coupled with the cold weather, it could be a bumper year for the survey.

Why not have a go and register now online?