The Pecking Order – Watching garden birds Part 1

On Sunday I talked about how to attract birds to your garden. Today, I want to say why you should.

The first reason is that it’s good for them. Providing an accessible and reliable source of food and water (year-round) helps populations survive, even thrive. So it makes sense in terms of conservation.

The other reason is that birds are great to watch. Obviously they are attractive, even the ‘little brown jobs’ have subtle beauty if you look at them closely. It’s great to see birds, but properly *watching* birds yields so much more than just ticking them off. Pay a bit more attention, and you open up a world of fascinating behaviour in your own back garden.

Coal Tit and Greenfinch share a feeder

There’s the interaction of the different species (inter-species interaction), and the interactions within a group of the same species (intra-species interaction). The ‘Pecking Order’. Who respects who? Who shows no respect for anyone? Sparrows may drive off a Dunnock, but a Robin will stand its ground. Greenfinches aren’t pushed off by much, though everyone gives a Woodpecker a wide bearth. Great Tits push the Blue Tits around, and the Blue Tits see off the Coal Tits. It can look like bullying at times, but these complex hierarchies work, and as long as the food supply is there everyone gets their fill.

I’m describing it as if there’s a set of hard and fast rules, but you’ll soon learn that generally applicable principles don’t always work. Individual birds will be that little feistier, smarter, quicker, or by contrast timid, when compared to others.

This Robin isn’t so shy, Martin Mere, 2010

For instance, everybody knows Wrens are shy and hard to spot (although very easy to hear), and Robins are bold and accommodating. But in the garden here, we have a wren that will sit on the window ledge and look into the kitchen. She’ll even sit on fenceposts feet away from you. Whereas the Robin doesn’t even like being watched through the window on the far side of the garden. So your birds may behave differently to others.

Feel free to share any observations of your own birds. Part 2 will be up tomorrow.


This entry was posted in Birds, Ethology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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