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I live in a suburb in a country town with plenty of large trees and my garden has shrubbery and a bird bath. Yet we seldom hear birdsong and if I put out fat balls and bird feeders, there are no takers. (We don't get rats and mice either, which is a blessing!) All we get are seagulls and lots of magpies which eat bread and bits of meat that I throw onto the garage roof. I think the magpies are driving away the smaller birds. Can I attract smaller birds back into the immediate area? If so, how can I protect them from the magpies?
I don't think you can deter magpies - but probably because you are throwing stuff which they can easily see - on to an open area - they are going to think it's a permanent picnic! They are ground feeders and don't/won't/can't eat from suspended bird-feeder type things. They will, of course, hoover up stuff which falls from them on to the ground below.
I don't think it's ever a good idea to site bird tables/feeders right out in the open. The smaller birds need to feel safe, and so if you can hang things from the lower branches of, say, a small tree you'll probably find that the small birds will soon discover the food source and will be able to shelter in shrubs etc nearby - if you have them.
By putting bread and bits of meat on the garage roof you're doing the best you can to attract seagulls and magpies. Seagulls love swooping down to scavenge bread, and magpies eat carrion, and that's what you're providing, so my advice would be to stop doing that.
Then do as hypercharleyfarley suggests and hang feeders in a sheltered spot, near some bushes where the small birds can take cover if a sparrowhawk appears.
I find that birds cannot resist the white sunflower hearts so I have one tube feeder with those in, and another with mixed seeds and another with a mix for soft-billed birds (insect eaters like robins and wrens). Blocks of fat with insects in, hung in a wire container attracts Gt Spotted Woodpeckers and members of the tit family
Provide a constant supply of fresh water in a birdbath or large plant saucer on the ground with a stone in it for small birds to perch on.
Clean the feeders regularly and keep them topped up, sit back and be patient.
They'll turn up.
Thanks for all this excellent advice. I have largely stopped throwing food onto the garage roof and if the magpies land on the lawn, my two small dogs have a lot of excitement driving them off. However, there is a colony of them on a nearby common and I know I won't get rid of them. Similarly, seagulls come inland when the weather is bad (pretty often, then). They have always done this but in previous houses, we have not been without smaller birds. This area seems blighted of them. I do know that magpies raid the nests of smaller birds.
You do have to be patient - plus the advice on siting feders is good. Birds need to feel secure, so putting feeders within an easy dash of cover will bring the greatest sucess.
Another tip is to check that the food in your feeders hasn't got past it whilst you've been waiting! It doesn't last for long and birds will not take sprouting birdseed or mouldy peanuts.I now have a constant traffic of birds in my garden but even so, sometimes I throw food away - it seems to go in phases.and peanuts. in particular, tend to get left.
Again, many thanks for this good advice. We have created a thicket for shelter and even put up a couple of nesting boxes, which get ignored.I was surprised to discover on this forum that magpies are officially regarded as pests and can be shot at any time of the year. They are beautiful but, I suppose, too successful in adapting to the modern world and there are too many of them. Cuckoos, also destructive of smaller species, are apparently in severe decline, but those **** magpies just keep going.
magpies are very clever birds, best way to deal with them is to buy a cage with a spring loaded door on top and put a magpie decoy inside, the magpie jumps into the cage and triggers the door. The magpie is then dealt with using a stout pair of gloves. My uncle who is a sheep farmer in N wales uses this method about 3 months from lambing time. The lovely magpies and crows like to peck newborn lambs eyes out and exhausted ewes while in the season. Of course poor animals have to be put down.
I live in Birmingham, there are millions of magpies, we still manage to get some small birds visiting, I'm trying to encourage this by removing the decidous hedge that circles my front garden and replacing with blackthorn, providing good nest sites and food. I'm going to keep taking the heads out of the hedge to make it really dense, this will at least stop the larger birds getting easy access to nests.
Thanks for the info, LearningSlowly (think I should have taken that nickname myself!) I won't be able to kill magpies. I can certainly see why a farmer would but I have the luxury of squeamishness.There are cats around here as well as magpies and my own two exciteable dogs, so I expect I'm on a loser, but I'll keep trying.
Makes you wonder how all these birds evolved and persisted in living side-by-side for thousands of years if one species was actually busily and effectively killing off all the rest.
Some birds are deterred by shiny things, so I would have thought painting the stainless steel feeder with a matt enamel paint would help. I don't very often get tits or finches of any variety visiting the garden, but we do have a pair of nesting blackbirds in the rowan at the bottom of the garden (Who frequently tell me off for using my patio area!) and we have LOTS of sparrows nesting in the blackthorn hedge. I had the luxury of seeing fieldfares in the rowan when we had snow, they really are beautiful birds. I've had a spotted woodpecker trying to get into the garage(?), and we occasionally see a sparrowhawk, generally it's going too fast to get a good picture. We had a lot of starlings last week, the male blackbird, bless him, tried to chase them away from HIS bird table, but there were too many of them for him to manage on his own. I've also seen the after-effects of the sparrowhawk, in the form of the feathers from a collared dove (they really are spectacularly stupid birds, those doves). I'd love to see some blue tits, coal tits and great tits, chaffinches etc, but I'll have to be satisfied with the sparrows, as apparently they are in decline - they raised at least two broods last year in my garden, and I'm always seeing them on the feeders, so I must be doing something right!
I'd be pleased to see anything - except those blasted gulls and magpies!
Over the past year blackbirds, sparrows, robins, etc. have completely disappeared from my garden, and as far as I can see from the neighbourhood in general. I live in a suburb of Birmingham and have for many years had a real mix of birds in the garden. Over the past year or so the magpies seem to have taken over completely, despite my best efforts to attract other species with my seed feeders. Is this something that I can do something about, or is it a general trend that an individual is powerless to change?
I have a bird 'station' with hanging feeders for seeds/nuts/fat balls etc. Although we have a lots of varied small birds we do get a couple of magpies too, that hoover everything up too. They don't seem to have any trouble with the hanging feeders
I doubt if it's all down to magpies. Look at the wider area. Changes in local environment, hedge removal, extra feeders in other gardens, more cats
Magpies love suet and over the past few years there seems to have been an increase in suet based food for bird feeders (suet balls etc) and I think that's attracting them into gardens in the winter when they would normally be out in the fields, hedgerows and roadsides after carrion.
The RSPB puts the declines in song birds down to intensive farming practice. Magpies are one of the very few species that have actually managed to adapt (because they are rather smart) so one should not blame them.
It is not true either that one can shoot magpies at any time. Magpies are protected by law (Wildlfe & Countryside Act 1981) and anyone killing or trapping them illegally faces fines. You can only trap them under licence.
I was told about an 'experiment' where magpies were trapped at a nature reserve in the hope that song bird numbers would increase. It did not work at all, without the magpies 'less attractive' bird species simply dominated.
It is often all too complicated for us to come along and mess with it. There has been some success at protecting ground nesting birds at reserves, but we don't get too many of those in our gardens so it is unlikely to help with birds in a garden. Other research has shown that it is the magpie population that relies on the song birds, removing the predator makes no difference at all to the prey species popoulations. What song birds are really missing is the ample food that was once in the countryside, weed seeds, insects, spilt corn, berries in the hedgerows.
Rant out of the way, bird boxes can take up to three years or more Gardening Grandma to get any interest. You could try putting in some straw at this time of year and see if birds use them as winter quarters. They might then think of nesting in them.
Sometimes when feeding the birds just trying a whole range of different things is the key. Often neighbours are feeding them already and many of the birds will be spoilt for choice. I have a friend who's birds never touch the peanuts, at my table the little guys are sat in the bushes waiting for me to put them out each day, but if I put out mixed seed it is never touched at all!
I don't put out bread as it tends to bring in mobs of starlings, but even they are declining so I might reconsider that. I find too that the magpies and jays at my table tend to come in at different times. They have their fill early on and the smaller birds come later.
The starlings are certainly not in decline in my garden. More than 50 have been at the freshly filled feeders this morning and there is hardly a scrap left. I saw a few sparrows, a robin and one yellowhammer (we used to have lots) feeding on the dropped seed.. One magpie and a jackdaw had no problems hanging on to the feeder.
At this rate I will not be able to afford to put any feed out
Good luck with attracting the smaller birds Gardening Grandma
We had the annual huge cloud of starlings come this weekend, they have always arrived at the end of September before, fortunately they by passed us and went the farm along the road.
I love to see the formation of them sweeping in, then change direction.
I dont mind feeding a few, they dont stay for long.
I don't mind feeding a few either Lyn but we have a very happy,healthy population as it is without all the newcomers muscling in. They roost under the roof tiles and I've found them in the attic and bathroom this year.
S.I.l in Edinburgh has seagulls landing on the chimney and shouting down