urban ecology

New urban songbird research from SongBird Survival

Our PhD student Hugh has successfully published another paper from his Gardens for Birds project.

Tit - Parus major

Great Tit – Parus major – one of the species studied in this project

In this study, Hugh wanted to investigate how the local environment helps determine the materials used in nest construction, how this differs among related species using similar nest sites, or if materials used directly or indirectly influence the numbers of offspring successfully reared.

He found that use of anthropogenic material affects songbird nest arthropod community structure. Specifically, more man-made material used in tit nests resulted in more fleas in the nests.

Clearly, urbanisation may have wide ranging and little studied effects on our urban songbird populations. Hugh’s work identified that nest boxes are ecological communities in their own right; they may be more complex than they first appear, and worthy of consideration for further investigation.

Read the entire paper here.

Urban ecology: noise and light pollution affect how robins sing

A researcher at the University of Southampton has found that robins in urban environments are affected by noise and light pollution.

The study by Frances Mullany used a fake robins to measure how the quality of robin territory was affected by its proximity to a lit path and a road.

Robins hold territories all year round, individually over winter, and as a pair during the breeding season. If you’ve ever strayed too close to a male robin’s territory, you may have encountered their aggression as these feisty little characters defend their patch. Male birds in particular are aggressive and very vocal in defending good quality territory.

Robin Feb 16

By setting up fake birds in different robin territories throughout an urban park, Frances was able to record how aggressively each of the birds in the park that responded, sang and displayed in response.

The study found that the robins that lived closer to lit paths and noisy roads displayed less aggressively than those who were further away.

Although urban pollution didn’t stop robins from singing, it certainly had a marked effect on the birds’ behaviour. The results of this study lay the foundation for further research into why these territories are less well defended, and has interesting implications for urban planning and design in the future.

 

Hugh’s research paper published

The latest paper from SongBird Survival’s Keith Duckworth project has recently been published in Ibis.

PhD student Hugh Hanmer has been studying urban bird ecology and conservation with Professor Mark Fellowes and Dr Rebecca Thomas at the University of Reading. The primary focus of his PhD has been on the indirect effects of garden bird feeding, though other work has taken in nest boxes and domestic cat ranging across the urbanisation gradient.

Hugh’s recent paper investigates whether feeding birds increases local nest predation. Using the university’s suburban parkland campus as a study site, Hugh replicated a typical suburban garden. He set up artificial nests, containing quail eggs, either 5 or 10 meters away from feeding stations. A variety of feeder types were used (guarded/unguarded, peanut-filled/empty), and both the nests and feeding stations were monitored with camera traps to see which species visited them.

Hugh found that Eurasian magpies and grey squirrels were frequent visitors to unguarded feeders, and this resulted in a five-fold increase in predation rates of nests that were set up near these feeders. Eurasian jays also predated these nests, although they did not visit the feeders.

-parakeets-and-squirre

The researchers suggest that magpies and grey squirrels are attracted to the food, and then forage locally, increasing the chances of finding local nests, and that the Jays respond to the presence of the other species, rather than the presence of the food itself.

Irrespective of the behavioural underpinning, the result of providing food was increased nest predation.

Wildlife gardening is hugely popular in the UK, and we spend £200 million on bird food every year. But we need to ensure that we are doing the right thing for wildlife.

Hugh’s research has important implications for how we feed the birds in our gardens, to make sure we are benefiting song and other small bird populations.

Hugh suggests that feeders are placed as far away as possible from potential nests sites during the key nesting period in late spring. It’s also important to offer food which is less attractive to nest predators and more suitable for the birds we want to support. Finally, he advocates the use of feeder guards, even though this didn’t reduce predation. This is simply because the use of guards means that more food goes to the target beneficiaries, rather than helping grow local populations of squirrels and magpies!

For more information on how to benefit songbirds in your garden, visit the SongBird Survival website. To view Hugh’s full research paper, click here.