Our native birds are not doing very well, although these probably the most lovable small animals in our environment show an amazing adaptability. That’s the reason z. B. if the native bird species that live with us in winter are actually increasing at the moment. In the following article you will learn more about our native birds and what you can do for the native birds in winter.

Why Birds Need Protection

Very many people are unaware that our native bird species are not doing very well because there are still a few birds chirping in the nearest park and few people will say “count birds” when asked about their hobbies.

So the birds are gradually becoming fewer and fewer, which is because their habitat is gradually becoming less and less as more and more greenery is replaced by built-up areas. In Germany, around 100 hectares are built on with new houses, roads or commercial buildings every day. Natural areas the size of about 150 football pitches are disappearing every day, and a continuously intensified, monocultural agriculture does the rest.

That gets the birds in trouble. Not only rare large birds such as cranes or storks are among the species that are strictly protected under the federal protection of species, i.e. endangered species. Various larks and swallows already need this special protection and of the popular sparrows (the “cheeky sparrows”) there are only half as many as a few decades ago. If we continue like this, we can probably eventually replace the names of the heroes of our folk song “Blackbird, Thrush, Fink, and Starling” with “Amidosulfuron, Diflufenican, Flupyrsulfuron, and Spirodiclofen” (herbicide names).

When birds disappear from the landscape, it’s not just “bad luck for the birds,” as some fierce advocates of “natural evolution” pitilessly object. But it should also be an alarm signal for the people who live in this very landscape (or city). The birds share the same environment with us. They are warm-blooded like us, with a similar body structure and similarly functioning organs. In English, they react to the same environmental damage as we do. However, the birds are much smaller than us and are much more sensitive in many ways. This makes them excellent indicators for people to draw their attention to environmental changes that will eventually also harm them. Bird protection is therefore human protection.

When it comes to native birds in winter, the first thing to do is find out what native bird species there are and how many of them spend the winter with us.

resident and migratory birds

There are around 250 native bird species – a native bird is generally considered to be a bird that breeds here. True to the motto “Where I build my nest, that’s where I’m at home”.

Half of these native birds spend the winter in Germany and freeze to death. The rest is obviously smarter, he sets off in friendly temperate southern climes.

However, the journey sometimes spoils the mood of the migratory birds. Especially the approximately 80 species of the so-called long-distance migrants, which fly to areas south of the Sahara and have to survive a number of dangers on their long migration route. So that you can get an idea of ​​the flight performance: A bar-tailed godwit (with transmitter) flew the 11,500 kilometers non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand in 2007. This means that the unpretentiously named “E7” is considered the holder of the distance record, but many migratory birds have not yet been tracked with a transmitter.

So these migratory birds are actually not that smart. You must have a good reason to expose yourself to such hardships and dangers. The reason is not the winter cold, but they just don’t want to starve. The long-distance migrants do not find enough food here in winter. They haven’t developed any strategies for dealing with sub-zero temperatures, dense snowpack or short winter days. They prefer to accept extreme deprivation and losses in order to get to really lush feeding grounds.

In contrast to the long-distance migrants, the approximately 40 species of migratory birds, called short-distance migrants or medium-distance migrants, have chosen more convenient destinations. They fly there in Western Europe, where it is nice and warm in winter, in the Mediterranean e.g. B. or maybe as far as North Africa.

Then there are partial migrants, birds where only parts of the population feel called to be migratory birds. Sometimes only the enterprising females head south in autumn and the males stay at home (like the chaffinch). Sometimes some of the bird group simply migrate south like sun-seeking tourists, while others remain in the breeding area. And sometimes an entire local population moves to a somewhat friendly location.

However, this change to a slightly friendlier winter quarters is actually the specialty of the so-called prowlers, which includes all birds that are native to a certain area in summer, that do not appreciate the winter cold in their breeding area and then simply change the “land” to a somewhat warmer region.

What remains are the so-called sedentary birds, i.e. the actual native bird species in winter.

Native bird species in winter

When the migratory birds have set off, around 130 species of so-called sedentary birds remain, which are at home with us all year round. These birds have adapted to our winter temperatures with amazing tricks. Birds who stay here can easily put on their very own down coat. It simply fluffs up, then between the feathers it has exactly the many small air pockets with which the down coat also keeps us warm. Sure, the legs and feet look out, in the bird as in the human. Here the bird has a clear advantage. His blood cools down extremely on the way to his feet, bird legs don’t freeze.

However, the sedentary birds very often no longer stay alone in winter. We live in a time that is determined by decisive environmental changes. With increasing urbanization (about half the world’s population lives in cities today and the number is growing) and global warming, birds are adapting to these changing environmental conditions just as much as humans.

Climate change and the comfortable life in the city mean that many migratory birds lose the desire to migrate, which can be illustrated very well with the example of the birds that spend the winter in Berlin today. Berlin is actually one of the rather cold places in Germany. Accordingly, the partial migrants or prostrate birds would have to set off from the cold east to the south or west of Germany in winter in order to spend a comfortable winter there. Typical representatives of these species, such as blackbirds, chaffinches, great tits and blue tits, yellowhammers and siskins no longer even think about it. Even the robins are no longer migrating to the Mediterranean or the Middle East.

In addition, there are short-distance migrants for a large part of the winter period, who have adapted their migration times to the current weather situation, i.e. fly away very late and arrive back in Berlin early in the year. Black redstarts, skylarks and chiffchaff can be seen in Berlin in November or as early as February. If it’s really mild, they might just stay in town all winter.

Some species of the “real” migratory birds also discover a completely new love for their homeland. They become partial migrants or remain entirely in their breeding areas. Sometimes they just reverse their migratory direction completely and migrate north to large cities, like some starling populations, who have thus shown a particularly good sense of better care without much effort. Most of the approximately 40,000 starlings that “live” around the Berlin Cathedral from June to October still fly south, but often no longer to the Mediterranean region, but only to southwest Germany. Some stay in Berlin entirely.

In other regions of Germany, other bird species are no longer interested in long journeys and spend the winter with us. In the east of Germany it can happen that you meet a stork in winter. Perhaps this stork grew up in a breeding facility and simply hasn’t learned that “as a proper stork” you head south in winter. Maybe he grew up wild and made a conscious decision not to go to Africa anymore. If the winter is mild, that brings him advantages. In the winter it finds enough food to survive without having to travel hard. In addition, it is the first stork to occupy the good breeding grounds in the spring. In the north of Germany there are whole invasions of waxwings in winter, who have gotten too cold in the Russian taiga or in Scandinavian Lapland. They prefer to overwinter in milder Germany. Every year, more states report a waxwing visit.

Bird protection in winter

Now that we know how many native birds live with us in winter and that the number is increasing, the question is what we can do for these bird species in winter.

Bird feeding in winter

Whether you should help our native bird species, whether long-established “sedentary birds” or newly naturalized “no longer migratory birds”, with winter feeding is a contentious issue among ornithologists.

Strict ornithologists refuse to feed wild birds in the wild. For them, the difficult feeding conditions in winter are a sensible selection criterion that ensures that only the strongest birds survive in a bird’s habitat. However, this view is very one-sided because it mostly assumes that these native birds live in a natural habitat to which they have long adapted.

But that is increasingly no longer the case. The ancestral habitats of the birds are disappearing to an increasing extent. Many birds have to find their way in a completely new living environment. The “new city bird” and the “new resident bird” don’t get a long adaptation period either. For these reasons, the majority of experts today are probably in favor of winter feeding, which can ensure the survival of the birds in cold and snowy weather. ‘There are even ornithologists who advocate year-round feeding.

Conditions for feeding

You should be interested in who is wintering in your yard and provide these birds with a species-appropriate feed mix. Feeding just any fat ball or seed mix of any kind could benefit the birds with the strongest populations. They usually don’t have very picky tastes and are also quite intrepid and assertive. So if you’ve spotted a rare species in your garden, your best bet is to feed it a specialty that it can eat without much competition. In addition, hygiene around the bird feeder is very important, otherwise you could encourage the spread of infectious diseases among the birds.

You should avoid feeding bread or rolls at all. Both can do bad things in a bird’s digestive system. When parent birds raise their young on the readily available scraps of bread from the park, rather than foraging for worms and insects, these young birds develop rickets and often die miserably. This happens to young crows in Berlin parks every year. With additional species-appropriate feeding, you can ensure that these birds also raise healthy offspring.

The potions

Birds definitely need unfrozen water, for bathing and drinking. It is not true that birds find water everywhere. The native birds often have a hard time finding watering holes in our gardens. When it is hot in midsummer, the water in puddles and ponds evaporates very quickly. When temperatures drop below freezing, it freezes and there is even a risk that birds will die of thirst.

That’s why you should set up a bird bath. Any plain bowl in your household will do. This bird bath should also be cleaned occasionally. Rinsing briefly with boiling water is sufficient for cleaning and disinfection. If the bird bath does not have an inlet that ensures water exchange, you should change the water daily. The bird bath (like the feeding place) should be installed in such a way that the neighborhood cat will not have any luck hunting.

Bird protection is not limited to winter

It was already mentioned above that in Germany a huge area of ​​nature disappears every day due to building. As a result, not only will habitats for birds disappear, but also habitats worth preserving for people. This means that our home gardens are becoming increasingly important, because they take up an ever larger percentage of our natural areas. It is therefore more and more important what you as a home gardener do to protect birds. With the winter feeding of birds, everything is really not done here. Because as I said, bird protection is also human protection. Where birds feel comfortable, the living environment is also good for humans.

It is therefore about the preservation of diverse, natural habitats, including in our home gardens. First of all, this simply helps to maintain a healthy and livable environment. If these measures also serve to protect and preserve a species-rich bird world, that is a “pleasant side effect”. Many different birds in our landscape tell us that we are surrounded by a livable and healthy environment.

As a home gardener, there is a lot you can do beyond feeding wild birds. The best environment for our native bird species is an ecologically oriented garden with fruit trees, hardwood hedges and a compost heap. In which grasses are allowed to mature and a bird protection hedge surrounds the property, the leaves of which can be left in autumn. In such a garden, the native birds find enough food, nesting places and winter protection. A whole range of other small animals that are important for maintaining a garden as an ecosystem are also taken care of.

Going back to the opening sentence that our native birds are not doing very well, here are a few more numbers. At the moment, a good 100 bird species breeding in Germany are on the Red List. Around a third of these are classified as “critically endangered”. Another 20 species are on an early warning list, only around half of the native breeding bird species are considered to be safe. So our birds need your protection, not only in winter.

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