Letter: Innocent magpies
Tuesday 30 November 1999
In 20 years, the species and numbers coming into our garden have steadily changed: kestrels have disappeared; house martins still visit but have not nested under our eaves for nearly a decade; collared doves, rare at the start, now visit daily in sizeable flocks.
Of the predators, magpie and jay numbers have increased slightly, crows more so: they, along with owls and great spotted woodpeckers, raid the hedgerow nests and for the last four years a pair of sparrowhawks have hunted the garden.
Despite this predation, the number of songthrushes remains constant while blackbirds, finches and tits show a steady increase.
I have no idea how much pesticide has been applied, but the numbers of flying insects including flies, bees, wasps, butterflies and dragonflies has fallen dramatically.
Without doubt the biggest killers in our garden are domestic cats. The one year I pruned the shrub and bush bases, depriving the cats of any ground cover, saw an increase in songbirds. Regrettably, mentioning this invariably evokes quite unpleasant abuse from cat-lovers, who seem incapable of accepting reality.
So, why single out the magpie for persecution? When I was a child these birds were remorselessly hunted because they were witches; in flight the tail is a broomstick, and people "just knew" they were evil. Does this superstition still linger today?
Finally the house sparrows, whose loss Lucy Lawrence (letter, 22 November) bemoans: they have increased annually, despite all my efforts to displace these "mice with wings", untouched even by sparrowhawks; they infest our roofspace, colonise nest boxes, rebuild destroyed nests, in fact they are a plague. In the spirit of Christmas, therefore, I offer Ms Lawrence a free box of house sparrows, all from a good home, reared on the finest birdseed and guaranteed to twitter endlessly.
VINCENT R HOLMES
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings Q&A: Why would the cockpit door have been locked and would there have been no way to get in?
- 2 Andreas Lubitz: Who is Germanwings co-pilot who 'locked out captain and crashed flight 9525'?
- 3 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 4 Germanwings crash: Descent may have been 'deliberate, suicidal choice' by pilot, claims experts
- 5 Woman held in psychiatric ward after (correctly) saying Obama follows her on Twitter
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
Jeremy Clarkson says it 'isn't hard' to create another Top Gear
Mark Gatiss on playing 'prince of darkness' Peter Mandelson in Channel 4's Coalition
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Zayn Malik quits 1D: One Direction fans compare Perrie Edwards to Yoko Ono
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Council tenant wins right not to be sent to Milton Keynes