Thursday, 29 March 2012

Image problem

Photo: John Holmes
Attitudes change over time. I've been writing a weekly column about gardens and wildlife for Garden News since the last 1990s, which means that over the years I've had lots of readers' letters. 
For the most part people write about problems or to share strong feelings they have about garden wildlife. Going back a few years one recurring theme was 'bullying' starlings. The gist of the gripe was that small birds didn't get a look in at bird tables and feeders because they were deterred by aggressive groups of starlings.
People seem to like to categorise birds (and other garden wildlife too for that matter) into the good and bad, like Western characters. And starlings were bad guys.
But I haven't had one of these anti-starling letters for a while now. Is it that the British public has learned to tolerate starling 'rowdiness'? Possibly, but it may also be that there just aren't so many starlings around these days.
More than half a million people took part in this winter's Big Garden Birdwatch counting the birds in their garden on a day in January. Starlings were still there to be counted, but the average number per garden was just three compared with an average of 15 in 1979.
Over the same time the numbers of blue tits per garden has gone up by 21 per cent. Perhaps it's time for British gardeners to start putting up starling nestboxes?

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