We feed the birds here at the farm - in fact the farmer spend enormous amounts of money on buying sunflower hearts, mixed seed, peanuts and fat balls in bulk once a month. He fills all the containers and puts scraps on the bird table every morning at about half past eight - the birds are waiting in the bushes alongside the feeders long before that time, as soon as it is light in fact. And by dusk it has all gone. We have a huge variety of birds - greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, robin, blackbird, mistle thrush, collared dove, wood pigeon, stock dove, spotted woodpecker, jackdaw, crow, magpie, occasional jay - plus all kinds of odd ones at times. This morning we had nineteen blackbirds feeding on the grass under the feeders (the farmer scatters three or four handfuls of food down for them as they prefer not to go on the table itself). This has been the case for the last few years. The blackbirds largely disappear during the summer months but the rest keep coming and also bring their families when they hatch out in Summer. Sometimes I wonder whether they will forget to forage for food, relying as they do on our handouts. In fact I wrote to our RSPB along these lines a few months ago and they assured me that the birds would forage as soon as the weather improved. Well we did have a poor summer last year but I can't say I noticed any reduction in the numbers at the feeders, apart from the blackbirds.
Today in The Times, Matthew Parris echoes my worries when he says that he is concerned that he is creating an "avian micro welfare state" and wonders what effect this is having on natural selection. He says that those birds who forage all year round in the hedgerows would, under the rules of natural selection, be the ones to survive the harsh winter and would then pass on these strong genes to their offspring. He thinks he may be sponsoring a "feathered dependency culture". I must say I tend to agree with this view. But of course, we get such pleasure from watching the birds at the feeders and from knowing that we help a large section of our local bird population to survive the harsh conditions. So we shall continue to feed them - to withdraw food now would be catastrophic. But I do sometimes wonder what effect this has in the giant scheme of things. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so I would like to hear it.