Tracking garden birds

Cox, D.T.C., Inger, R., Hancock, S., Anderson, K. & Gaston, K.J. 2016. Movement of feeder-using songbirds: the influence of urban features. Scientific Reports 6, 37669. [Image from Shutterstock] shutterstock_240027928

Private gardens provide vital opportunities for people to interact with nature. The most popular form of interaction is through garden bird feeding. Understanding how landscape features and seasons determine patterns of movement of feeder-using songbirds is key to maximising the well-being benefits they provide. To determine these patterns we established three networks of automated data loggers along a gradient of greenspace fragmentation. Over a 12-month period we tracked 452 tagged blue tits Cyantistes caeruleus and great tits Parus major moving between feeder pairs 9,848 times, to address two questions: (i) Do urban features within different forms, and season, influence structural (presence-absence of connections between feeders by birds) and functional (frequency of these connections) connectivity? (ii) Are there general patterns of structural and functional connectivity across forms? Vegetation cover increased connectivity in all three networks, whereas the presence of road gaps negatively affected functional but not structural connectivity. Across networks structural connectivity was lowest in the summer when birds maintain breeding territories, however patterns of functional connectivity appeared to vary with habitat fragmentation. Using empirical data this study shows how key urban features and season influence movement of feeder-using songbirds, and we provide evidence that this is related to greenspace fragmentation.