Sentimental thoughts: birds and us
Many of us are distressed when we see a sparrowhawk catch a blue tit in our garden. But we rarely feel a twinge of remorse when a tit eats caterpillars that might well turn into beautiful butterflies. On one level it could be argued that there’s little difference between the two. And doubtless we’d be more warmly disposed to chick-killing magpies if they could sing like nightingales rather than conversing in grating cackles.
Whether we like it or not, sentiment often shapes our feelings about wildlife. Almost no one has a good word to say about rats and yet they’re considerably more intelligent than hedgehogs. Grey squirrels are fortunate to enjoy what might be described as cute looks. If they looked more like rats it’s unlikely so many people would tolerate their raids on feeders.
Times change - and so do attitudes. Starlings were once regarded as greedy and spiv-like. Today, with numbers much reduced, many more people appreciate their smart plumage and lively behaviour. Similarly, flocks of house sparrows were once the bane of the bird table or feeder. With their numbers much reduced, we now go out of our way to feed them and even provide nest boxes.