All’s fair in love and the suburban bird-feeding wars | Peter White

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We all know about the classic seeds of neighbourhood strife: unruly children and dogs; light-blocking trees and hedges; full-throated motorbikes arriving and departing when right-thinking folk are trying to sleep. What I hadn’t realised until recently was that the apparently gentle practice of feeding the birdies could unleash dark feelings of envy and loss.

When we arrived at our current house, it already had a modest, slightly rickety wooden bird table on a pole, with one bird feeder attached. My bird-loving wife was originally content to add a couple of additional feeders, so that smaller birds such as tits, gold- and bullfinches, nuthatches, etc could get their fair share, while the bigger birds could feed off the table itself, and the food scattered on the lawn was enough to satisfy the crows and jackdaws.

For months, this worked very well, and she got a great deal of pleasure from watching their various morning routines. Then, out of the blue, they stopped coming.

At first, she couldn’t fathom this desertion. Was the food wrong? Had Daisy the cat, usually too lazy to disturb them much, made a sudden attack? And then the problem was solved. A neighbour had set up one of those sophisticated bird-feeding stations: a thin pole, about six feet tall, with half a dozen containers, some mesh, some plastic, that are much more easily accessible than ours.

My wife feels this act of betrayal keenly (treachery by the birds as much as the neighbour) and is not minded to take it lying down. Plans are afoot for a counterattack.

This is not just a little local difficulty. Birdfeeding has become something of a craze in the UK. The British Trust for Ornithology says we spend between GBP200m and GBP300m a year on it.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering how competitive this business is going to get. There are two ways to fight a war: increase your own capabilities, or diminish those of your opponents. Will my wife simply buy a taller, more capacious bird-feeding station to tempt the birds back, or acquire bigger, braver, more energetic cats in an act of potential mutually assured destruction? I really can’t imagine what Saint Francis would make of all this.

  • Peter White is the BBC’s disability affairs correspondent

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