Letting nature carry some of the load

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Work With Nature: Try Birds Instead Of Pesticides In Your Garden

Abundant tits in the garden may prove a natural way of weaning fanatical gardeners off pesticides and other bee-unfriendly ways of controlling garden pests and insect plagues.

Blue tit feeding on nuts (Credit Lewis Collard- Wikipedia)

Here Mike Alexander, our nature and food writer examines the benefits of the bird feeder in attracting those great insect-hoovers, the Blue and the Great Tit (Mésange Bleue and Mésange Charbonnière in French).

More than 50% of gardens in France are thought to include a bird feeder or bird table of some type. Frequently these feeders are primarily there for entertainment value: a sort of live soap opera playing out the antics and disputes of the local Feathered Friends with an occasional cameo appearance as celebrity guest, by Red Squirrel.

On the more serious side however, having a bird attracting feature in the garden may be far more beneficial than most realize especially with the increased focus on cutting back or eliminating the current levels of pesticide use.

Two of the most common visitors to any bird feeder in European countries are the Blue Tit and the Great Tit. Both of these attractive little birds adore seeds and nuts though they are essentially insect eaters, particularly at this time of year when they are rearing their young.

The quantity of insects that they can get through in a day is quite staggering. Both birds usually lay large clutches of eggs, between six and sixteen in the case of the Blue Tit, and the young chicks are fed exclusively on caterpillars and other insects during their stay in the nest.

The average chick will require approximately one hundred insects a day so if we assume a brood of ten chicks then each brood is consuming in the region of 1000 insects daily.

With just 10 pairs resident in your garden you have a powerful little army out there fighting off those unwanted invaders. The list of insects that top the menu for these birds is extensive but they will happily consume aphids, caterpillars and leaf miners, happily among the insects that gardeners are most keen to get rid of.

Blue Tit Painting by Henrik Gronvold (Credit Wikipedai Henrik Gronvold)

A 2007 study found that a Great Tits presence in an apple orchard reduced insect numbers by as much as 50% with the exhausted parents having to find, capture and then deliver an insect to a hungry, gaping beak roughly every ninety seconds throughout the day.

With Great Tits there is a correlation between the male sperm count and the brightness of the colouring on his breast. The brightest birds are the most sort after as mates as the brighter colouring is enhanced by better diet. The females are believed to assume that the brighter males make better providers in much the same way as male owners of red sports cars like to think they are being assessed by the females of our own species.

Attracting not only tits but many other birds to our gardens seems to be a guaranteed win-win situation both for bird and gardener, though perhaps less so for caterpillars and aphids.

The birds benefit from having an easy source of food all year round whilst we eliminate the need for pesticides with very little effort. To make your garden a five-star seasonal destination for these flying vacuum cleaners consider offering nesting boxes and bird baths as sought-after little luxuries likely to upstage your neighbour’s efforts at tempting in these welcome garden guests.

Squirrel eating from bird feeder (Credit Wikipedia Grimmcar)

Both Blue Tits and Great Tits are non-migratory birds which mean they will remain in the vicinity year round if the conditions (food supplies and other little perks) are right. For tits, ideal affordable housing should be placed two to four metres above the ground and in partial shade.

The best front door size for the Blue Tits is 25mm rising to 35mm for the larger Great Tit. If you advertise your bird gite in the autumn, prospective guests will soon be investigating with a view to moving in as soon as family demands arise.

Writer: Mike Alexander
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