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Birds Britannia: Garden Birds

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Stephen Moss Stephen Moss | 15:42 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

Of all Britain’s birds, one particular group has risen to the very top of our affections - those that have chosen to live alongside us, in our gardens. These have become the most familiar (the blue tit), the most loved (the robin), and in some cases, the most hated (magpie and sparrowhawk) of our birds.

It's hardly surprising we are so obsessed with garden birds, for they perform a daily soap opera outside our back window - a soap opera whose characters reflect our own attitudes, prejudices and emotions. These are our most familiar birds - those we see every day, and with which we interact with most in our lives - engendering a very deep and intimate relationship between us and the natural world.

And yet our relationship with garden birds is a surprisingly modern phenomenon. It is the result of some of the most dramatic changes in British society in the last hundred and fifty years.

For we are a nation of gardeners, who have become a nation of garden bird-lovers. Our long and cherished relationship with our gardens, as evinced by the huge popularity of television and radio programmes such as Gardeners' World and Gardeners' Question Time, has undoubtedly helped to influence and define our relationship with the birds that live in our gardens.

Today, two out of three of us feed wild birds in our gardens, spending over £150 million pounds a year in the process. In a sense, this simple act of kindness to our fellow creatures is the entry point into a deeper relationship with wildlife as a whole - a symbiotic relationship bringing mutual benefit, whereby the birds are fed, and we are entertained by watching them.

Yet only a century ago, most of us did not even have gardens. We took little interest in the welfare of our feathered neighbours, and were more likely to eat a blackbird than to feed it. And the very concept of ‘garden birds’ was meaningless - the term hadn’t even been invented yet.

So in little more than a century, an extraordinary transformation has taken place in our relationship with the birds that live alongside us. This domestic drama runs parallel to the history and development of that very British phenomenon, the modern suburban garden. Tune in into the first episode of Birds Britannia to find out how!

Birds Britannia: Garden Birds is on BBC Four and iPlayer from Wednesday 3 November. Check all programme times.

Stephen Moss is the Series Producer.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi steve
    looking forward to watching birds britania,as for some bird lovers hating magpies/sparrowhawks i can understand as you know i love sparrowhawks and they keep the balance of songbirds population especially the tit family just right.

    If sparrowhawks did not do this we would have a explosion of the tit family as they produce lots of chicks,surly this would affect the grubs population they rely on at breeding time,not sure which grub species it is but i suppose chris would know.

    Some years i have 8 sparrowhawks 6 juv and 2 adults catching prey in a tiny copse and my song bird population goes up every year not down.

    As for magpies they kill every chick in the nests they find leaving nothing to survive,so i can understand them being disliked,there population has trebled over the years the sparrowhawk seems stable,and works hard to catch its prey which also has a chance of escape,so if sparrowhawks are about it means the songbird population is doing fine in that area, unlike the magpie killing all chicks at songbird nests.


    Nature knows what its doing and has done for millions of years,its mankind that doesnt.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nothing could have prepared me for how enjoyable this programme was. Well done you!

  • Comment number 3.

    hi steve i have been putting in my garden everyday and theb i watch to see what comes from my brother bedroom window and i noiced that there was more sparrows than any other birds
    can u please tell me why
    ryan mottram

  • Comment number 4.

    Fab' programme!!
    My Parents missed it, is it repeated??

  • Comment number 5.

    Please can you identify the amber breasted, blue winged and headed bird on this week's Birds Britannia. It was shown immediately after the woodpecker going into the tree. I have been trying to identify this same bird which came into my back garden for one day last summer and has not been seen again. Is it a redstart?

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Steve,
    We have a pair of Grey Wagtails that have made a nest in our pump house next to our Pond.......they have made it on a Pond Vac hose, we have set a Camera up in there so we watch them every day taking bits into the nest,not sure when they will lay eggs or if they will. Is there anything we should or should not do?



  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Steve,
    Just looked at my Camera and we have 2 eggs in the wagtails nest!!! I'm so excited!!! just hope thet hatch now.



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