Birds Predators and Pests

There are a number of predators of garden birds. The level of threat depends on the time of year and the location. However, irrespective of where the garden is and in all season, the domestic cat is the most significant predator. With which we only have ourselves to blame being a nation of pet owners. But there are plenty of pests and predators in nature that will actively seek out birds that inhabit our gardens.

These are some of the main predators of our garden song birds:

  • Squirrels
  • Birds of prey
  • Crows and Magpies
  • Cats

Birds of Prey

The presence of large numbers of birds at your feeder is going to attract the attention of predators, just as any concentration of prey species would in the wild. And some of those predators will be feathered just like their prey. So wherever small birds gather Sparrow Hawks, Kestrels and the like will eventually show up and begin making their diving attacks.Kestrels are more of a threat in suburban and inner city areas, whereas in the countryside more rodents are taken.
In the summer months Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Tawny Owls all have hungry families to feed. Although it can be upsetting to see a young song bird taken by one of these species; they rely on ready source of food for themselves and their offspring’s survival.

Song birds being prey species, know they are vulnerable to larger birds of prey and will keep a carful watch on the skies. Among the numerous benefits of flocks is the ability to have many pairs of eyes constantly on watch for these predators. In fact, they are much more likely to spot a threat before you do, so we can take our cue from them; when all the birds at the feeder suddenly freeze or dart off into the shrubbery and tress above, look out for predators.

Overall most birds of prey will actually take very few birds at any given time from your feedings. However, being as sentimental as us humans are, we often feel the need to do something about such situations due to caring nature. It doesn’t matter that there is very little we can do, short of surrender to the vagaries of nature.

If you really don’t feel that you can let nature take its course then be aware that taking any direct action, even with just the intention of ‘scaring off’ the birds of prey is not acceptable. Laws at all levels protect from the attack of humans. Even if you do it with the intention of protecting other birds, you run the risk of harming the predatory birds. This will counteract that fact you were trying to ‘protect the birds’ in the first place.
Therefore, having ruled out the option of fighting back, the most effective option is to eliminate the attraction for the offending birds altogether. If you stop putting feed out for a week or two then the song birds will disappear. Which in turn remove the source of temptation for the predatory birds. This will then become an unattractive hunting ground for the predatory birds and they will discard your garden as their hunting territory. Once this happens and you have had no sightings of the predator, you can proceed to once again put feed out for the song birds. However be advised that this is likely to only be a temporary solution, and a hunters may once again show up. You will then what to repeat the process.
Another option if not a little more of a permanent fix, would be to plant trees and shrubs in close proximity to the feeding area allowing the birds a place to escape to when danger comes. This will however give less of an immediate impact, but a long term solution.

The final option is the least impactful, the most environmentally aware and the easiest. This would be to just accept the birds of prey as part of the ecosystem. After all they have to eat too, or we wouldn’t have these wonderful birds gracing our skis. Ultimately it is one more bird that your feeder is attracting and what an unusual and outstanding bird at that. You can give the song birds a fighting chance, by providing cover. But then just sit back and let nature take its course.

Living with Squirrels

Most people that feed birds from their gardens seem to have a love-hate relationship with squirrels. It can go from extreme anger when a squirrel destroys a brand new bird feeder, to excitement and joy when that same bushy-tailed acrobatic performer shows off his tricks between the fence and the washing line.

Of course there are plenty that truly hate squirrels, but there are lots more that just couldn’t envision their garden without them. But these pests can really take it to another level when it comes to stealing food form bird feeders. An option is to put out treats for the squirrels which will detract them from your feeders. You will then be able to get the best of bother worlds. However there are no promises that once they have eaten up all of their feed they won’t move on to the birds after would, they are particularly greedy.

There is the option of squirrel proof feeders of course. These are effective and can prove a good solution. However not all are 100% squirrel proof, as these cleaver critters somehow manage to navigate their way through the trick mechanisms and strong material. So if your local squirrel is the equivalent of the Hulk or Einstein the feeder may not last long. But for most this is a worthwhile solution.

The grey squirrels can be a threat to the actual birds themselves, but mainly in the breeding season, when nest boxes will be attacked. Steps can be taken to protect nest boxes from there attentions by screwing a square metal plate with a suitably sized hole over the entrance hole of the nest box. This will also prevent any Great Spotted Woodpeckers from pecking at the wood, and enlarging the entrance hole to reach the eggs or nestlings inside.

Are Magpies bad?

Magpies are yet another bird which may enter our gardens. They can excite a remarkable degree of hatred and to an extent it is earned. They are killers of the song bird species but mostly their eggs and chicks. They appear to go about their grim business with certain ruthlessness, and frequently perform their worst in of bird lovers eyes. Gardens with resident Magpies can sometimes appear to have a lower population of birds than gardens without. This leads to the impression that they terrorise the smaller birds into going elsewhere.

Nobody pretends that a Magpie leaves the little song birds alone and wishes them well, as it definitely doesn’t. It has adapted itself very well to the garden environment, and includes young birds and eggs among its diet during spring / summer.
For the most part of the year it spends its time foraging on the ground, where which it is less likely to come across any unfortunate birds that it might devour. The other percentage of its timeis spent higher up in trees, where it is still no threat to its smaller neighbours. The hunting of junior birds, is for a very short period undertaken each breading season. For the remainder of the year, Magpies don’t tend to attack and killing adult birds, because for the most part the agile smaller birds are too quick for them to catch.
Ultimately studies of increased Crow and Magpie populations, of which both regularly eat small birds and eggs, show that predation is very rarely to the level in which it affects the local population.

Conclusion

In spite of all these threats, the greatest cause of mortality for young birds once they leave the nest is cold and starvation during their first autumn and winter. So although we may feel that these dreadful predators are the reason for any declines in song bird numbers. It is important to understand the ecology of nature and the importance of the survival of all of these animal species.

It is only when predators are not native or are found in unusually high numbers that they become a problem, then, and only then, should the appropriate action be taken by the appropriate authorities.The only thing we can do is give our much loves song birds a head start by enhancing our gardens to be more of a safe haven. Doing things such as providing Clipped hedges and dense evergreens; which are great for hiding and a good spot for nests. Vulnerable nests can be protected temporarily by nylon mesh placed over the bush or hedge. The adult birds will still be able to access the nest from below.And lastly one that might be hard to get the head around. Swop you cat out for a dog. A Dog in the garden will offer some protection to garden birds by scaring off lager predatory bird, squirrels and cats.