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Student research into effective wild bird feeding

Posted 4 April 2014

Tom Copestake

A final year Harper Adams University student is hoping to find out how far birds will fly to find food and whether the quality of bird seed affects their decision.

22-year-old Tom Copestake is investigating how distance affects foraging for garden and farmland birds by using two types of seed mixes and three distances from the hedgerow.

The study, which is for his dissertation project, aims to find out how far the birds will risk travelling from cover and whether the quality of the food makes a difference.

BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management student, Tom, said: “For the study, I am using a high energy seed mix and a standard seed mix – both of which customers can easily buy from the shops.

“I am then stationing the seed at 2m, 5m and 7.5m away from the hedgerow - where birds seek protection from predators and build their nests.”

Tom is conducting his experiment on the Harper Adams University farm and will be monitoring the birds’ behaviour twice a day for two to three weeks. The project has been supported by Shropshire-based CJ Wildlife, providing both the feeders and seed.

Tom, from the Wirral, added: “I’m doing this so that we can share with people how to make the most of feeding birds, whether it is worth buying expensive seed, and where it is best to station it to benefit the birds the most.

“The results should help people to feed birds more efficiently whilst aiding researchers to learn more about bird foraging behaviour.

“I chose this subject because birds are a good environmental indicator as to how healthy farmland is.

“Lots of research has been conducted into the decline of farmland birds so this topic is an area of great interest to me.”

Aside from his dissertation, Tom’s interest in birds has led him to volunteer with the RSPB, taking part in saltmash research on the Dee Estuary.

He also spent his placement assisting with stewardship schemes at Chris Seabridge & Associates Ltd, and enjoys taking part in conservation work in his spare time.

Tom, a former Calday Grange Grammar School student, added: “I chose to study at Harper Adams because the university specialises in subjects related to the rural environment.

“In the future, my dream job would be to work as an environmental consultant but I hope to travel to Australia to conduct environmental work as my brother is already over there but working in renewables.”

Tom recently received the Lord Leverhulme scholarship, worth £1000.

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