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Angry Birds

…spotted in UK gardens

Thousands of Blackcaps, migrant warblers from central Europe, are ruffling feathers in British and Irish gardens. Latest sightings gathered through the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Blackcap Survey are exploring the behaviour of these increasingly spotted ‘angry birds’.

This January, householders are helping the BTO to find out about real ‘angry birds’ in gardens – Blackcaps. Incoming reports, submitted through the charity’s Garden Blackcap Survey, show how this species is often a volatile guest, seeing off Blue Tits, Goldfinches and other similar-sized birds from garden feeding stations.

So far, the only birds to have weathered the frosty reception that is dished out by Blackcaps with much success have been Robins and House Sparrows. Robins are known for their feistiness and so it is unsurprising that they are unwilling to give an inch without a fight. House Sparrows, on the other hand, flock together and are generally faithful to a local patch, and so are well placed to out-compete this new kid on the block.

Behind these fascinating observations is important science. Food provided in British and Irish gardens is thought to be altering the migratory habits of Blackcaps that breed in central Europe. Normally these birds would spend the winter around the Mediterranean but our garden offerings, coupled with our warming winter climate, are enabling an alternative migration route to our shores to grow in strength. Over the past few decades, numbers coming to feeders have increased by several hundred per cent.

Despite the importance of feeders in changing the travelling habits of these birds, no data have yet been collected to investigate the behaviour of Blackcaps in winter gardens. This January the BTO is calling upon householders hosting one or more Blackcaps to choose a day on which to study their behaviour through the Garden Blackcap Survey.

Dr Tim Harrison, Garden Blackcap Survey coordinator, commented: “Blackcaps are elegant garden visitors but they often bring with them considerable attitude! Some are so protective of garden morsels that they defend them even when they are not eating themselves. This may seem pretty unfair to other garden birds but perhaps underlines the importance of garden feeders to the survival of Blackcaps.”

He added: “Numbers of Blackcaps in gardens are increasing rapidly and reached a record high for the month of December in 2012. With so many of these eye-catching birds currently around, now is a great time for us to find out more about their behaviour. Please take a few minutes this January to let the BTO know what the Blackcaps in your garden are up to through our Garden Blackcap Survey.”

To take part in the Garden Blackcap Survey, visit http://www.bto.org/gbw or telephone 01842-750050 for a paper recording form. British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk. IP24 2PU

4th July 2014