It is entirely possible to tame wild birds, but relatively few have actually been domesticated.
We’ve been feeding wild birds with seed over the winter, and protecting House Martin nests for just over a year now at Sheepskin Towers. The results have gone further than we’d hoped. We’re starting to tame wild birds that visit the garden.
We get rock doves, great tits, jackdaws and surprisingly… A Sparrowhawk.
Now, most gardeners try to deter Sparrowhawks on the grounds that they have been nurturing small birds and hate to think of them being eaten. I tend to think that sparrowhawks need to eat and my garden is full of food.
It’s a conflict we all feel watching anything narrated by David Attenborough. On the one hand we want the prey to escape, on the other as Attenborough explains, if the mother doesn’t catch this cute little creature then her babies might not make it through winter.
I guess I must come to terms with the fact I have effectively been a sparrow breeder for the last twelve months. The arrival of a sparrowhawk is an endorsement if anything. The bird buffet extends well beyond sparrows.
This little female pheasant has been raised for humans to shoot. She has until October 1st when it becomes legal to hunt pheasants (after they’ve raised their young). She’s been enjoying the delicious seeds we put out for our feathered friends, and she’s getting tamer. Here she is enjoying a dust bath!
House Sparrows, Sparrow Hawks Favourite
Watch these House Sparrows feeding here:
Part of this interest in wild birds has come from a tame cockatiel.
Meet Steve, our female cockatiel, at 90 grams she’s more than double the size of a house sparrow. When we got her she hadn’t been out of a cage. She was untamed and had only ever been touched by a human when she was bought and sold. The lady who had her before us had put a lot of the groundwork in – sitting by the cage talking for hours. Spending time with her. But the little dog she lived with was an accomplished hunter, a Jack Russell with very sharp wits. So for her own protection Stevie stayed inside the cage until her owner could bare it no more and we took her home with us.
The process of taming a bird isn’t rocket science. Just go super slow. Spend time with the bird. Don’t be a threat, have food around. Move slowly. Be yourself, if you’re chatting and eating carry on chatting and eating!
Our job with Stevie is to slowly get her used to a harness so we can take her outside. Without a harness she’ll be easy picking for all the wild things.
So what is the difference between a tame bird and a domesticated bird? A tamed bird is one that will tolerate or enjoy human company, come close, maybe even allow a human to touch it. These tamed birds are the same as their wild counterparts and they could breed with them. Our Stevie could meet up with a wild Australian cockatiel and make babies.
A domesticated bird has been selectively bred to the extent that they are genetically different from their ancestors. So different that there is no wild counterpart that they could breed with. The number of truly domesticated birds is relatively small and includes some breeds of chickens, pigeons and some, but not all, budgies.