I have nothing to teach the birds, but they have everything to teach me. They’ve taught me how to calm down, and how to stop, and watch, and see; they’ve taught me how to put humans, and human concerns, in their proper place; and they’ve taught me how to get through a crisis that has trapped me in my house, and in my head. Thank God for the birds.

Let me take you through the roll-call. The blue tits, obviously, impatiently watching me replenish the feeders. And the chaffinches; sometimes there’s more than 100 of them outside the window. And the woodpecker, running up the tree, and the nuthatch, running down it. And the guest stars: a jay, magpies, doves, corvids, and the wagtails that nested in a hole in my wall. And finally, the A-lister: a robin who poses on the bench like it’s a throne.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some newcomers too. A linnet with a breast almost as bright as the robin’s and the dowdier female with her go-fast stripes on her chest. And there have been a few house sparrows too, which is a new thing for me in the middle of the country. House sparrows tend to stick to towns, but I can see a few of them checking out the hebe by the window as a potential holiday home. They’re very welcome to it. I hope they stay.

I hope, too, that their presence is a good sign. Sixty years ago, the house sparrow was the most numerous bird in Britain, but the population has declined by 99 per cent. Fortunately, the situation appears to have stabilised more recently and part of that may be down to more of us putting out birdfeeders in our gardens: sales of feeders and food have increased big-time during the lockdowns.

Obviously, all of this is good for the birds, but it’s good for us too. A study was published in Germany a few days ago showing a connection between birds and human happiness – the more birds you can see and hear around you, said the report, the more satisfied you’re likely to be with your life. It also concluded that the effect of more birds is as great as the effect of more money. But then I could have told them that.

I’d also like to tell you about some of the things I’ve learned about helping the birds: a few of the tips that experts in the RSPB and other organisations have passed on to me over the years. The first of them is that you should keep your feeders filled all year round, not just in the winter. In the summer, a lot of the birds’ diet will be made up of insects, but even then every little extra bit helps.

The second tip could be more difficult: don’t be so neat and tidy. A lot of birds feed on the scraps that humans leave behind, and use the hedges in our gardens as shelter, and for food, and for nesting – the ordinary garden is a bird’s fortress and kitchen and nursery. So don’t leave your hedges too trim and neat – leave spaces for the birds to get in and out. And put scraps and leftovers out on the birdtable. It will all be appreciated.

Maybe we could check our attitudes too. We know the British people love birds, but we also know we have a confused attitude to them. We put up bird tables but put spikes on buildings to discourage pigeons. We celebrate the robin but decry the gull. The hen harrier is killed to protect the right to kill the grouse. Perhaps we could stop trying to impose our rules on the birds. Perhaps we could step back and realise they are all the same. Perhaps we could look at the birds and learn.

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