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Effect on songbirds

Most British members of the crow family (including magpies) will take eggs and nestlings. This can be upsetting to witness but it is completely natural. However, some people are concerned that there may be a long-term effect on songbird populations.

Many of the UK's commonest songbirds have declined during the last 25 years, at a time when populations of magpies increased. To find out why songbirds are in trouble, the RSPB has undertaken intensive research on species such as the skylark and song thrush. To discover whether magpies could be to blame for the decline, the RSPB commissioned the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to analyse its 35 years of bird monitoring records.

The study found that songbird numbers were no different in places where there were many magpies from where there are few. It found no evidence that increased numbers of magpies have caused declines in songbirds and confirms that populations of prey species are not determined by the numbers of their predators. Availability of food and suitable nesting sites are probably the main factors limiting songbird populations.

We have undertaken intensive research to find out why songbirds are in trouble. We discovered that the loss of food and habitats caused by intensive farming have played a major role in songbird declines. The change from spring to autumn sowing and the increase in the use of agricultural chemicals have reduced the amount of insects and weed seeds available for songbirds to eat.

These and other habitat changes, including the removal of hedgerows which are used for nesting, roosting and feeding sites by some birds, have been major reasons for the severe declines in many of our farmland species.

Songbirds need dense vegetation to nest in, to help protect their eggs and young from predators. This is not usually available in suburban gardens. You can help the birds in your garden by planting climbers such as ivy and honeysuckle, and dense shrubs such as hawthorn.