There have been some interesting articles recently asking the question: Are we doing more harm than helping our birds by feeding them?
The arguments persist over a) high densities of birds in one place helping the transmission of disease, b) are we just creating an artificial bird feeder for predators like sparrowhawks and c) are we providing supplemental food for rats and squirrels which are then more likely to survive the Winter and prey on nests the following Spring?
We can certainly mitigate most of these issues by a) regularly cleaning the bird table and feeders, b) keep food above cat height and in some cover so not too exposed to aerial assault by sparrowhawks and use squirrel deterrents in how we present the food.
However, I think there is another question. For obvious reasons our native birds tend to stick close to the feeder stations and logically may attempt to nest in the nearby vicinity/ neighborhood come the Spring. This may in turn result in a naturally high number of predators, which comes back to the first question; are we doing more harm than good?
To help address this we can provide shelter and suitable nesting habitats such as dense hedging, nest boxes in quiet wild places in our gardens. But to dwell on one regular garden table feeder the beautiful long tailed tits pictured in this blog a bit more detail is required. They usually nest in our garden each year but invariably get predated by magpies.
Dam! Naturally they like really spikey bushes to help protect their nests and chicks. The nest below is in a berberis atropurpurea, under the cover of some mature trees. It has some spikes, but I have now planted around it three gorse bushes really, really spikey, two roses and a holly. My hope is this will provide the perfect breeding habitat for long tailed tits – Fingers crossed