Predation is an emotive and difficult topic for many, both the public and conservationists alike. However, we must acknowledge, understand and include it when addressing the complex and wide range of threats affecting UK songbirds It can become an particularly important issue when already at-risk populations are subjected to excessive levels of predation
Predator-prey cycles are part of the natural cycle of life. Predators consume prey species which allows them to be sufficiently healthy and nourished to reproduce. Then if or when the predators become too great in number, they die off because they don’t have enough resources (including prey food), hence prey numbers rise again. It’s a tale as old as time, numbers cycle over and over, and they are in constant flux.
Many prey species have evolved to reproduce at a rapid rate and have large numbers of young, so that when an expected amount of young gets predated, the population continues. Similarly, predators tend to have fewer young and take longer to reach sexual maturity so that their numbers cannot get out of control.
The issues for songbirds and other wildlife arise when factors out of their control interfere with this natural cycle.
When prey species are in drastic decline and are of conservation concern, any excess levels of predation can therefore further drive the population downwards. The cause of decline is a complex mix of factors for most species. Whilst predation in isolation, may not be the leading cause of decline in many cases if we can prevent excessive levels from happening, it may help species to recover.
The impact of predation as one of the complex net of threats facing songbirds, is also variable depending upon the species and location.
In species which nest on the ground, high levels of ground predation can destroy entire nests within a very short time, and solutions such as predator exclusion fencing have been used to mitigate this issue. Ground-nesting passerines are also more likely to undergo higher levels of predation compared to nests positioned in trees or shrubs. This low-level position makes the nests accessible to a variety of mammalian predators that cannot reach higher nests. Of those that nest in bushes and trees, open cup nesting species fare worse than cavity nesters.
The predation of animals by introduced species has led to local extinction in island environments all over the world. The domestic cat is an introduced predator, and they exist in such high numbers, with over 12 million cats estimated in the UK. Research estimates range from 100-270 million prey items (including rodents and reptiles) taken by domestic cats each year and the impact of this on songbird populations is of great concern and a key focus of SongBird Survival’s scientific research. We now know that much of this predation can be prevented through 4 simple steps by using our solutions:
Any help we can give our feathered friends has to be worth a try, so if you have a cat at home, try some of these out to help the birds in your garden. Check out our our #FriendsNotFood campaign for more information and take our pledge.
Depending upon the situation there are a variety of options which exist, including an ever-wider range due to developments in science and technology. Any predator control must be necessary, legal and done in such a way as to cause the minimum suffering or distress.
Provide birds with a safe place to live in your own garden or in your local area. Follow some of our tips below to get started.
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