Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Winter feeding

For the first time, scientists have produced hard evidence to show that the extra food we provide garden birds in winter makes for a more successful breeding season in the spring (as if we didn’t already know). The study from the University of Exeter and Queen's University Belfast, published today in the journal Biology Letters, compared 10 deciduous woodlands in County Down, Northern Ireland, which were either assigned a series of wire mesh feeders hung from trees and kept supplied with peanuts or left with no feed from the beginning of November to early March.

By providing similar nest box densities, and leaving some birds with extra food and leaving others to fend for themselves, the team was able to compare productivity between the two groups. Those that were given extra food laid eggs earlier and, although they produced the same number of chicks, an average of one more per clutch successfully fledged.
So what you might think. Well the authors go on to suggest that this supplementary feeding and fledging rate (plus the fact that resident birds will over-winter in a better condition) may have a
knock-on effect on other species particularly migratory species, such as willow warblers and pied flycatchers (which have seen declines in recent years) by giving resident birds an advantage.

Image from RSPB Images. Article based on one on telegraph.co.uk

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