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About this book
About this book
Read our interview with Mike Toms.
Gardens make a significant contribution to the amount of urban green space and are the main contributors to urban biodiversity. Birds are one of the most visible components of this urban biodiversity, and many of us enjoy attracting wild birds into our gardens.
This timely addition to the New Naturalist Library examines the ways in which birds use gardens, revealing the many new discoveries that are being made and explaining why individual species of bird use gardens in the ways that they do. Why, for example, do Blackcaps now winter in UK gardens favouring those in the southwest and those that are urban in nature and why do Siskins increase their use of garden feeders on damp winter days? With a growing human population, the process of urbanisation is set to continue and it is important to recognise the impacts that urbanisation will have on bird populations and the community of species making a living within the built environment.
Although many people do not regard themselves as birdwatchers, most of those who seek to attract wild birds into their gardens do so because they enjoy watching them. Some have taken their interest further by becoming involved in citizen science projects that have helped to develop our understanding of how and why birds use our gardens and the resources that they provide. This research demonstrates the role that gardens play in the ecology of many wild bird populations and reveals insights that continue to fascinate a growing audience, increasingly interested in the wildlife that lives alongside them.
Customer Reviews (1)
1 Nov 2019
Written for Paperback
The New Naturalist series has covered a wide range of issues in its 75 years of existence – from the lives of early humans to plant disease via accounts of different UK regions. Only once before has it tackled gardens, and the bird content of that volume was minimal. So it is good to have birds in gardens taking centre stage for once. Around 87% of UK households have some form of garden and when combined these total 4300 sq km in extent. That is nearly three times the area managed by the RSPB, but more importantly, these gardens are often in places where they provide the only habitat for birds to nest in. So gardens are important for many birds. Having overseen the BTO’s garden surveys for more than a decade, Mike Toms is perfectly placed to pull together all that is known about these birds and the opportunities and challenges that they face.
Early on in the book, there is an assessment of gardens as a habitat and how birds use them, particularly in an urban setting. The provision of food and feeders is discussed, with regional differences being compared. There is information on the types of food and how it is selected by different species. Natural food is also considered, both alongside and instead of the food that garden-owners provide. Against the positives of our extra food helping birds in many ways, there are risks of some becoming dependent on it and being exposed to predators at a greater density than might be found away from gardens. Importantly the issue of disease is covered in some depth – an issue that too few people are taking action on. Every aspect of breeding is covered too – such as nests, nest boxes, multiple broods, clutch size and timing of breeding. The challenges of garden life are dealt with in some detail too, including the effects of artificial light, traffic noise and the avoidance of man-made (and often mobile) obstacles. The examples given are mostly based on our experience in the UK but comparisons from North America and Europe are occasionally used.
There is a particularly interesting chapter on garden bird behaviour. Much of this is not specific to gardens but indicates how living at high density can affect the way birds interact, and how they adapt to situations not found in more traditional habitats – such as their ability to overcome the fear of us. There is also a chapter on the human aspect – how we benefit from birds and the things we can do to learn more about them. These include regular surveys and managing our gardens in ways to attract a wider variety of birds at different times.
For many people, a significant attraction of this book will be the narratives for 48 species that are the most regular visitors to gardens. These include the Red Kite Milvus milvus – which few people would have imagined seeing in their garden until very recently. Each account explains the factors that determine whether a species will visit gardens and indicates both geographical range and timing through the use of BTO maps and monthly pie-charts. These are a distillation of all that has been learned from the BTO’s garden surveys which date back over 50 years. One surprise for me was that Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret is absent from this section and indeed the whole book. No doubt it lies too far down the garden bird league table to deserve its own species account, but given that BTO surveys show that this species has increased its late-winter visits to gardens by a factor fifteen times in recent years, its absence from the book feels like an oversight.
This latest New Naturalist is liberally illustrated by attractive colour photographs that are chosen well, although one identical photograph of a Blackbird Turdus merula is used twice in different places. Importantly it is written in an engaging style that makes it a delight to pick up and read, with sub-headings that allow the reader to scan easily for the information that they require. In terms of providing science in a user-friendly style, it works brilliantly.
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Mike Toms has overseen the BTO's Garden Ecology Team for more than a decade, delivering research that addresses the question of why birds use gardens and the impact this use has on their ecology. Now Head of Communications at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Mike is responsible for how the organisation communicates the results of its scientific work to a broad range of audiences. Much of his work is geared towards public engagement in citizen science, delivering quality research through networks of keen amateurs.
Mike is a regular contributor to BBC Wildlife magazine, a columnist for the Eastern Daily Press and author of several books, including a number on garden birds and, most recently, the Collins New Naturalist volume on garden birds. He is a Trustee of Norfolk Wildlife Trust and part of the New Networks for Nature steering group.
452 pages, 174 colour photos and colour illustrations, colour distribution maps, 9 tables
"[...] This book is, in short, a state‐of‐the‐art compendium on the ecology of garden birds and, to an extent, of the humans who feed and host them. It includes an extensive 51‐page bibliography, and will no doubt remain the go‐to reference for some years to come, although climate, agricultural and urban changes will mean the status of garden birds will continue to be in flux."
– Anthony Cheke, Ibis, 2020
"The New Naturalist series has covered a wide range of topics in its 75 years of existence, from the lives of early humans to plant disease via accounts of different UK regions. Only once before has it tackled gardens, and the bird content of that volume was minimal. It is therefore good to see birds in gardens taking centre stage for the first time. [...] This latest New Naturalist is liberally illustrated with attractive colour photographs that are chosen well [...]. Importantly, it is written in an engaging style, which makes it a delight to pick up and read, with subheadings that allow the reader to scan easily for the information that they require. In terms of providing scientifically accurate information in a user-friendly style, it works brilliantly."
– Keith Betton, British Wildlife 31(1), October 2019