Sunday, 20 May 2018

Daylight robbery: grey squirrels stealing millions of pounds of bird seed a year

New video analysis reveals the furry thieves are looting up to half the seed put out in feeders, leaving gardeners and birds short-changed

Damian CarringtonEnvironment editor
Thu 10 May 2018 07.00 BST

Daylight robbery worth millions of pounds is taking place in gardens across the country with grey squirrels raiding bird feeders on a huge scale, new research has revealed.

The crimes were caught on video camera by scientists, who said grey squirrels are also known to raid birds’ nests for eggs and chicks. So people putting out food for birds are inadvertently supporting a species that harms them.

Over 40% of households across the UK put out bird feed, totalling about 150,000 tonnes a year and costing £210m. But the new analysis, based on video recordings of more than 33,000 visits to bird feeders, showed much of the food is being snaffled by squirrels.

Grey squirrels, though loved by some people, are an invasive alien species that has driven the native red squirrel out of much of the UK and they are also a pest in orchards and commercial forests. However, using feeders that are enclosed by a cage can help stop the squirrels getting their free lunches.

“Anybody who feeds birds knows that there is a good chance that squirrels will come in to your feeders,” said Prof Mark Fellowes, at the University of Reading, who led the new work published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. “The question is how much is going to the target species – the birds?”

To find out, the researchers placed automated video cameras in suburban gardens around Reading and found that birds would not go near a feeder when a squirrel was present. Furthermore, when squirrels were frequent visitors, they deterred birds even when not actually on the feeder.

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