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Urban Bird Conservation

At a time when urban green spaces are under increasing pressure, private gardens represent havens for many species of wildlife. Birds in particular regularly visit gardens to feed and breed. The food we supply helps many birds survive tough environmental conditions. However, despite currently being encouraged by major conservation charities such as the RSPB and the BTO we know relatively little about the effects of supplementary feeding on breeding success, especially in urban areas.

In theory we expect that putting out food will not only increase bird populations but also increase the breeding success of these birds. However, there are some overlooked side effects of feeding.

Potential nest predators such as magpies and grey squirrels are common at feeders in urban areas. They compete for food at feeders, which may increase the risk of local nest predation and failure. In turn these effects may be prevented by using feeder guards and other devices to stop larger animals from accessing food.

We also don’t know if these effects spill over into survival of newly fledged chicks. Building on previous work carried out last year on the University Campus and in gardens in Earley and Woodley we plan on carrying out a large scale garden experiment during the coming spring to explore these effects.

How can you help?

We are looking to recruit 200 volunteer garden owners from 20 separate locations within the urban/suburban Greater Reading area. For this we need you!

We plan on providing bird feeders, bird food and some nest boxes to our volunteers so we can then monitor breeding activity in real suburban and urban gardens. Using nest monitoring and bird ringing to compare different feeding setups we hope to shed light on this overlooked area. Then using tiny tags similar to pet chips mounted on leg rings and feeder mounted scanners to read them, we plan on tracking the survival and feeding habitats of the newly fledged nestlings.

The whole experiment is expected to last from early March to late July with the majority of the research effort focused on mid April to mid June when most garden birds nest. Regular access will be needed to gardens where birds actually breed for scientific monitoring but this will be arranged to suit you and you are actively encouraged to observe and take part!

How can you take part?

This project will form a major part of Dr Hugh Hanmer's PhD thesis on the Conservation of Urban Birds. If you are interested in taking part or would like further information please contact Hugh at or at 0118 378 5467.