some very mixed weather, there have been many reports from all parts
of Britain that the summer just past has been an excellent one for
breeding by many garden birds and especially by Song Thrushes. This
is good news as this species has suffered more than a 50% decline
since the 1970s. Survival of the young birds through the coming
winter will be crucial to ensuring that this year's good production
leads to more breeding pairs next year, but at least there are plenty
of young to start with.
of Song Thrushes and four of Blackbirds bred in my garden or in
my neighbour's, nearly all of them rearing two broods. My neighbour
has more nesting hedges than I do, but I have the larger lawn, where
most families were brought by their parents to feed. I also grow
soft fruit which he doesn't, and before long the carefully netted
strawberries and currants (black and red), and the fruit cage containing
our raspberries, were under siege. The strawberries and currants
are protected by soft netting. It is fine mesh, so that birds are
in no danger of getting entangled, but it wasn't long before I noticed
that when two or three young Blackbirds or Song Thrushes stood on
the netting together, it would sag enough for them to be able to
peck at the fruit below. And after this had happened once or twice,
I'm convinced that it was a co-operative effort with the birds realising
that they needed help from their siblings and friends in order to
produce sufficient weight for success!
fruit cage was built, like all such structures, to be bird-proof.
If only! I inspected it as the raspberries flowered and was satisfied
that no bird would be able to gain entry. However, I seriously underestimated
the persistence, the ingenuity and, above all, the ability to learn
that birds can exhibit. As soon as the fruit began to ripen, a walk
down the garden would be greeted by a Blackbird or Song Thrush alarm
call as the birds inside the cage tried to get out. When I wasn't
in sight, they seemed to enter and leave at will, but the slight
panic induced by my presence was enough for them to forget that
they knew the way out. Careful checking found no holes in the netting
and no apparent gaps for the birds to enter by, yet on some days
an entire family of Blackbirds would be inside the fruit cage and
an awful lot of raspberries would be inside the Blackbirds.
Like so many
birdwatchers who are also gardeners, I find I have a very ambivalent
attitude to the marauding hordes. I rejoiced that it had been a
good breeding season for these familiar and friendly birds, but
my enjoyment of fresh raspberries and cream is such that I resented
having to share the crop with them. My wife has suggested I grow
more raspberries outside the fruit cage and donate them to the birds.
However, I am not at all convinced that this would reduce the attacks
on the fruit cage, as she thinks would be case. I suspect it would
merely fuel their appetite for more. Still, if it results in even
a small contribution to restoring Song Thrush numbers, perhaps it
will be worth it.
Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research
scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident
on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the
'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial
team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.