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Post Info TOPIC: The Great Elton Cuckoo Controversy (insert laughing emoji...!)

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RE: The Great Elton Cuckoo Controversy (insert laughing emoji...!)

Rob mentions the desert wheatear at Whitby which probably stayed too long and was ultimately taken by a sparrowhawk. I can also remember a rose-coloured starling falling to the same fate in St Helens. In the case of the starling, food was being put out in an exposed location, i.e. on top of a brick wall, because that was where the photographers could get their best shots. That's what led the starling to it's fate, it spent too long in the wrong place and could easily be seen by the sparrowhawk. Before the photographers started feeding the bird, it used to drop down into the backyards of the terraced houses and could go missing for an hour or more, and when it reappeared it might only be for a few minutes before disappearing again. That was the safest way of feeding for the bird, but it didn't produce the best photos. So the birds safety was compromised and it was drawn out into the open with the inevitable results. 


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Great thread to open Ian, been thinking how to word my thoughts properly as I can see both sides of the argument but in this case as has been mentioned below, different species some of which are migratory and a lot scarcer, some that lead delicately balanced lives and tread a fine line (or FLY a fine line if you like) along a tricky migration route, it is without any doubt that it needs extra care and thought about what you are actually doing.

This is only my opinion mind, so not necessarily right or wrong, but its what I think.
Yes most if not all of us are guilty as charged for feeding wild birds of some sort at some stage, garden bird feeders / feeding stations one of the obvious ones. As previously stated, absolutely essential in my view, not only in winter when food can be harder to forage for (possibly for some species more than others?) but in summer too when chicks are born and more nest visits with food are required the adults know the food is there to help necessitate more frequent visits, and when fledgelings leave the nest so they learn that should they go short of food, theyve got a reliable source to use in harder times.

Quick anecdote - around 10 years or so ago I remember a male Blackbird (not so much the female) was coming to the bird table and the wheelie bin outside the back door constantly calling waiting there for us to put some cheese there, and barely moving away while we were doing it. It used to fill its bill and fly back to the nest and come back again. Not unusual you might think, only a Robin that had obviously observed this started doing the very same thing, begging for food on the bird table and the wheelie bin. The Blackbirds did this a couple of years in succession so it was obviously a great source of food for the young, high fat and calcium content.
The seeds, nuts, suet, etc all essential in my view for the commoner garden birds and any scarcer ones that drop in and take advantage of it.

Ducks - we feed those too, bread, seed, etc Ive done it for 50 years and take my 4yr old son to do it now, again I think its very beneficial to them both in winter and in summer when theyve got young. Coots, Moorhens, and Mute Swans all take advantage of it, and lets not forget a few years ago when someone in London started to pipe up about not feeding the Queen's birds on the Thames because its bad for them, next thing was local birders noticed they were getting thinner and were struggling due to lack of food.

Then theres the Gulls, yes Ive thrown the odd bit of bread or even chips for them, I thought rather than eating some of the crap off the tip but we all know a Gulls stomach acid can cope with eating rubbish. One winter I even bought some trays of diced fish for fish pie from Morrisons fishmonger and gave it to some rather nice Glaucs and Icelands at Fish Quay in Newcastle and I didnt want my Gulls at Redgate to miss out so I gave them some too.

BUT when it comes to the rarer or migratory species that I touched upon earlier that live precarious lives then I dont agree with feeding them, call me hypocritical but different factors are at play that I think can be detrimental to them.
The juv Cuckoo was seen feeding on caterpillars that it caught itsel, fattening up before the journey south so why use mealworm to try to keep it there longer than needed when juv Cuckoos dont normally stay that long in one place, I dont think they do anyway? Was it done for photography alone? Who knows! But what I do know is, it was showing well of its own accord during the first couple of days of being found.

Then theres the Desert Wheatear a few years ago, being fed mealworm on a beach, it stayed far too long and if I remember correctly it was caught by a Sparrowhawk. Some people were predicting a grizzly ending if photographers (?) kept putting food down. That was certainly the case.

Theres other species I could go into but its a can of worms Im not opening. So thats my view, might sound controversial but different species need looking at in different ways and the Cuckoo is definitely one Id not feed or interfere with with as it could resist the urge to fly when it feels its right to, and it could become overweight or fly too late thus putting it in danger..


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Really useful discussion addressing a problematic topic. I'll try to dissect the issue as I see it - others can disagree

We all know that some birders & some photographers get far too close to birds, and believe their fieldcraft is better than others' even though it obviously isn't. This can be an obsessive hobby, and the urge to get a better view or pic can override common sense & maybe the birds' welfare

There's no argument about garden feeders being beneficial to birds, or feeding stations for wintering birds or as a supplement, etc. Benefit without harm

But, surely we need to look at the specifics of this case. My first thought was "well, why not?". However, I think Brian has nailed it - as always, the bird's welfare comes first. In this case, there's a risk of interfering with an uncommon & declining species' delicate migration pattern. There just isn't a stronger argument, even though on the face of it there seems to be no harm done

There's also the argument that the bird should be seen behaving naturally. But, in this case, the welfare issue is more important


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An excellent article Ian to open up a discussion on the subject of feeding wild birds for what ever reason, I am surprised I am the first to reply, I have run winter feeding stations for many years and have data which suggests a year on year increase in certain species because of winter survival rates therefore more breeding taking place in subsequent years.
Most of these figures relate to passerine species, I am also involved in conservation of Owl species where we can argue a case of providing food during extreme weather conditions.
My problem with the celebrity Cuckoo at Elton is this is a species which has a complex migration in built system, so is there an argument that this juvenile has stayed in the same place for too long because of the artificial food supply where under normal circumstances it would fuel up for a few days and then move south and is becoming acclimatise to this food supply and therefore may struggle to achieve its migration south in the correct time scale.


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So, a short discussion started on the Elton Reservoir sightings thread recently, regarding the feeding of mealworms by photographers to a juvenile Cuckoo which had set up residence on site. Several birders got in touch with me expressing their anger and frustration at this action, so questions were asked on the thread (by me in response to comments made to me privately) about its justification and ethics. Being a sightings thread though and not wanting to drag out what could have been a long discussion on there, the ‘discussion’ has now been moved to here, which is the usual course of action on this forum when such things arise (and I should have known better than starting it on the sightings thread in the first place!!).


For many, such seemingly unnecessary feeding for ‘our’ gain is a very thorny issue and has been discussed, more usually in a completely intolerant and unconstructive manner, on many other social media platforms and indeed between groups of usually like-minded individuals without the benefit of the views of the ‘other side’ (whichever side you might be on!). But there is a discussion to be had and without any understanding and appreciation of the at least occasional veiled tension between ‘birders’ and ‘photographers’, it is perhaps only likely to widen further (and I speak from both parties, though mainly birders, who have discussed it with me).


It would be nice to see both sides of any discussion commenting on this subject, and I only ask that in doing so, time is taken to really read and digest the comments of others first and any comments must remain cordial and constructive. Of course, as is the increasingly ‘modern norm’ much is said privately, anonymously in many cases, but few dare to do so publicly, to raise their heads above the parapet and whilst I can fully understand why given the occasional malevolence and misinterpretation from those who may not agree with a point of view I may have, it’s such a shame in this day and age that few would seem to be prepared to actually take the time to contact someone personally (and in my case despite putting my mobile number in the public domain for just that reason!) to amiably discuss and chat about any issues. Is this what we’ve become!? It will therefore be interesting to see if anything gets said, never mind even slightly resolved, here.


So, some points to hopefully promote thought and discussion:


·      The Elton juvenile Cuckoo was a very confiding bird of its own accord and was finding plenty of its own natural food source, so why did anyone feel the need to supplement this with mealworms (are they even suitable for Cuckoos?) and what would be the purpose of feeding any such migrant? On the original thread, Ian Yeomans made the very interesting point that if providing such supplementary food even had the slightest benefit and assistance for the bird making its crossing back to Africa then why would that be unwelcome? Furthermore, does feeding such a bird purely for the benefit of obtaining photographic images really differ from feeding any wild birds on (garden for instance) feeders purely for the benefit of watching them, bearing in mind Elton has its own ‘bird feeding station’ which does not pertain to target any particularly vulnerable species etc?


·      There are of course small elements of alleged ‘photographers’ who go beyond what is acceptable in this (and other) behaviour in terms of disturbance or selfishness but similarly, there are many occasions of alleged ‘birders’ being just as bad (have a look at behaviour at many national twitches or ‘organised flushes’ etc where the considerations towards the welfare of the bird is perhaps questionable, though one wonders how, never mind why, people present are categorised). So why is it one side seems to perhaps criticize the other more, or in fact do they? 


·      Often ‘photographers’ are criticized for their overwhelming desire ‘merely’ to obtain the next best image of a bird for their or other social media site etc but is not the same true of ‘birders’ who post sightings pretty much for their own kudos on personal platforms and the like, both parties often giving nothing back to the birds or their habitats via submitting records etc? Is it even a problem for anyone merely to just enjoy birds for their own motivation (and my own opinion here is quite clear in being a resounding no!)?


·      How do we even categorise ‘photographers’ in the first place anyway given most birders carry cameras too, many of a professional grade to boot?







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