It’s not easy for any creature this time of year when the cold weather and short days makes finding enough food to survive on, much harder. The fact that so many people nowadays help the garden birds out by supplying seed and water can only be a good thing I’m sure.
However, I think that snow can tip the balance in favour of the predators.
I was reminded of this only this morning whilst watching my population of starlings, arriving in their normal rowdy bunch, squabbling over who should have the first peck at the seed and bathe in the water.
Several down on the ground, were shoving aside the snow with their beaks, as the ones on the feeders knocked seed to the ground in their frenzy to eat. Their dark, shiny plumage and the whiteness of the snow make them very easy to spot.
As I watched the group, out of the corner of my eye and coming in from above at speed, was the local sparrowhawk! It stooped in, scattering the starlings, twisted at the very last fraction of a second and seized one unsuspecting bird and with a quick flick of its wings, launched into the air with its prey firmly held within its talons. It took the starling off across the rooftops, to find somewhere to pluck the hapless bird and consume it.
Although perhaps some may see this as a bloody and shocking event, it’s always good to see things in perspective. Everything has to eat and the fact that the snow may have defined the prey somewhat and the sparrowhawk was successful this time, there are many times when it is not and the energy expenditure on a failed attempt makes that one kill all that more important to the hawk. It also shows that the population of garden birds is sustaining itself enough to afford the odd loss.
At the top of a food chain, the life of a predator depends very much on the viability of the rest the trophic levels within it. So when we feed the birds in the garden, we’re supporting all the birds, including those that sometimes wake us up while we watch!
Who needs Africa, when you’ve got a back garden!