Garden birds and their predators

Posted: Wednesday 29 May 2013
by Pippa Greenwood

As I write, the bush in front of the bay window is ‘on the move’ as house sparrows, hedge sparrows, various tits and chaffinches forage inside it.

House sparrow, photo by Ray Kennedy (

As I write, the bush in front of the bay window is ‘on the move’ as house sparrows, hedge sparrows, various tits, chaffinches, and an occasional fluffy greyish-brown baby sparrow, forage inside it.

If ever I find myself feeling that life’s a bit tough, or something isn’t working out as I want it to, I remind myself that actually I’m lucky I’m not a wild bird. Living in constant threat of predators, it’s easy to see the difficulties they face. During the breeding season, I find it amazing that they manage to produce any offspring at all.

I put food out for them on a flat piece of wood, laid on top of the hedge - this is something I’d recommend to anyone who has their own or a neighbour’s cat to contend with. Even my very athletic rescue cat can’t get to the birds there. And, if you were wondering, the cat also wears a bell (in fact two at this time of year), and it works well. I love cats and I love birds, but it can be a tricky three-way relationship otherwise.

Halved apples, fat balls and platters of bird seed are a regular hedge adornment in my garden. I even balance an old baking tray up there and keep it filled with water for the birds. It’s guaranteed cat free, and also, it works well because I can also see the birds more easily from the house.

But it’s not just cats that my little garden visitors have to watch out for, it’s predators like sparrowhawks and magpies too. It may be natural, but I still hate it. I’ve even tried erecting a massive Eden Project-style dome with open sides, made from chicken wire, so they can’t be swept down upon by the sparrowhawk.

It’s not an uncommon sight, in the middle of a family meal, to have one of us leap in the air and bang on the window at the sight of a sparrowhawk or sly bunch of magpies, sliding up to ambush a young bird. At first, all the birds flew away at this, but the more we do it, the more we find they stay behind. Presumably they now take it to be normal, natural behaviour for the humans in this house.

Of course, there are times when sharing the contents of my veg plot with my feathered friends isn’t always easy. So like most others, I use home-made shelters, cloches and pop-up net covers to keep them off at certain times of year. I always ensure that any netting is super-taut so birds can’t entangle in it. I check pop-up tunnels regularly, because once I found a bird inside one, and the polytunnel, which a tawny owl once found its way into.

So, just as I hope to increase the yields from my garden, I hope that my efforts will also help to yield more wild birds...

Thank you to the RSPB for supplying the house sparrow photo, by Ray Kennedy.

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Talkback: Garden birds and their predators
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fidgetbones 31/05/2013 at 21:31

I caught a sparrowhawk on film. I posted it on youtube.

If you encourage the small birds into your garden, it is inevitable that the predators will follow, whether that is cats or magpies and sparrowhawks.

Angela at 27 02/06/2013 at 21:36

We've had the same pair of blackbirds make nests in either ours or our neighbours gardens for the last three years and the magpie got them every time. This year no magpies (for some reason) and we've had two hatchings of blackbirds and two of sparrows. Hurrah! I don't know why the birds keep on bothering with such a low success rate.

kaycurtis 05/09/2013 at 02:48

I am so lucky with the amount and variety of birds that visit my garden, it's like a bag of allsorts, I hang up all these different feeders some of which I have large cages around to help to protect the birds whilst feeding they are expensive but worth while, starting from twenty pounds they fit over existing feeder to make an exclusion zone, my birds cost a fortune to look after but they are worth it.I don't have a cat but neighbours cats are a real nuisance.