Did you know that the bird food you put out in the garden could be playing a part in boosting the UK's population of Blackcaps?
Traditionally, southern Germany and Austria's breeding populations of the species would migrate south to spend the summer in Spain. However, recent research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has revealed that over the past 60 years, an increasing number of Blackcaps are actually migrating in the opposite direction, heading north to winter in the UK.
What is behind this behaviour? The BTO believes bird feeding is key. It found early observations of wintering Blackcaps coincided with the wider introduction of commercial wild bird foods and the birds have been seen more often at sites where food is left out frequently.
"The increasing association with supplementary food over time suggests that Blackcaps are adapting their feeding habits to exploit human-provisioned foods," the BTO stated.
Martin George from CJ Wildlife commented: "We're really pleased to see these results from the British Trust for Ornithology. In fact the BTO Garden BirdWatch Survey started as the BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch Survey; we helped get it off the ground in the early days and we're delighted that it's producing results that help us show the positive impact of feeding garden birds."
Food alone isn't driving this change, with the fact that winters have become milder in the UK also attracting the birds to our shores, but it is fascinating to know that bird feeding can have such an impact on a species' behaviour. Indeed, the BTO found the Blackcaps that come to Britain are actually developing genetic differences to their counterparts that travel to Spain.
"Blackcaps wintering in Britain have relatively narrower and longer beaks than those wintering in Spain, suggesting that British migrants have adapted to a more generalist diet," the organisation stated.
Male Blackcap (iStock)
According to the RSPB, a growing number of Blackcaps are actually living in the UK all year round, with roughly 3,000 birds now resident in the country, the majority of which live in southern England.
Not sure if you've seen a Blackcap in your garden? These birds are similar in size to a Robin and, as the name suggests, can be identified by the distinctive black cap on top of their heads. It's actually only males that have this colouration, with females possessing a chestnut cap instead.
Food for thought
It's not just Blackcaps that benefit from bird feeding. According to the BTO, supplementary feeding has helped to boost overwinter survival rates in garden birds, and with human activity doing much to disrupt bird populations, it's nice to know we can provide a helping hand too.
The key to supporting as many species as possible is to put out a variety of food types that satisfy a range of nutritional needs. You can find out more about the different bird foods available here. Investing in a range of feeders can also help to encourage diversity in your garden; just make sure you clean them regularly.
Ensure your feeders are well-stocked and who knows which feathered visitors you might attract!
Female Blackcap (iStock)