|A species well-used to intereacting with humans - the mallard Anas platyrhynchos relaxing after a hard day of being fed by passers-by in Winchester, southern England.|
|A male blackbird Turdus merula hunting for invertebrates in our garden. Digging often brings a bold female right to our feet as she looks for earthworms.|
|L-R: siskin (Carduelis spinus), redpoll (Carduelis flammea) and goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - three congenerics together on a nyger seed feeder.|
|A blur of activity - a mob of long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) in a squirrel-proof feeder.|
Of course, it's not just food - with the loss of many natural sources of water such as ponds (something that can only get worse with predicted hotter, drier conditions as climate change bites), water is also key. We can create ponds in gardens and elsewhere (we're in the middle of digging ours) and, even more easily, ensure regularly topped-up bird baths are in place.
|A blackbird taking the opportunity for a drink.|
|A wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) hogging the bird bath and having an enthusiastic splash! Smaller birds have been seen waiting in nearby shrubs for pigeons to finish their ablutions.|
Sometimes water isn't what's required for bathing - sometimes it needs to be dry and sunny...
|A juvenile robin (Erithacus rubecula) sun-bathing in an old chimney-pot, originally put in the garden to grow tomatoes.|
|Afterwards, time to cool off...|
|...while a beady-eyed adult looks on.|
So, we've covered food and water - but what about shelter? Bird-boxes are familiar so I won't cover them here, however birds sometimes manage to make their own good use of structures put in place by humans for entirely other purposes.
|A female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) just beneath a telephone junction box outside our house. Males and females have been seen taking nest materials and food into this box.|
|Three juvenile swallows (Hirundo rustica) in a nest built under the roof of a visitors' gantry at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset, southern England. Adults made frequent feeding visits to the nest, even flying between people as they came in through the open sides of the walkway. Apologies for the poor photo - I didn't want to disturb the nestlings by using the flash.|
|It looks like a model, but it was definitely real - one of the adult swallows at Monkey World, unusually seen perching.|
Sometimes of course, all that is needed is a quiet place away from too much human disturbance.
So, we have seen some brief snapshots of some of the ways in which birds benefit (or at least don't suffer) from the presence of thoughtful humans. This has not always been the case - until 1832, the world's heaviest flying bird, the Great Bustard Otis tarda nested in Britain, but subsequently became extinct here, probably due to a combination of hunting, pressure from increased human population and changes in land use (Waters & Waters 2006).
|A mounted specimen of the Great Bustard, a male with a splendid 'tache.|
This is an unusual example, but one which shows a more positive recent trend as there is now a well-known reintroduction programme. The Great Bustard Group (which can be visited for a small fee) manage this through introductions from Russia and in 2009, after a gap of 177 years, Britain had wild Great Bustard chicks! Currently the effects of humans on birds vary - there have been huge declines in farmland and trans-Saharan migratory species (though even this has shown an improvement where there has been improved management in Africa), while many woodland species in Britain have increased, not to mention some complex trends relating to garden bird feeding. The conclusion - aside from getting involved in wider-scale conservation efforts, we can all act as individuals by making the places we live (and work?) in more attractive to birds and other wildlife. 'Nuff said!
Waters, E. & Waters, D. (2006). The Great Bustard (2nd ed.). Great Bustard Group, Salisbury.