The Hungry Gap

Today may be the first official day of Spring and certainly in Cambridge it feels spring-like with the sun shining, and the countryside around us stirring into life, however it might surprise you to know that the coming month is historically one of the hardest for some our birds. Termed the ‘Hungry Gap’, it affects seed eating birds such as yellowhammers, reed buntings, grey partridges and our iconic skylarks.CK yellowhammer
The hungry gap is actually a term derived from human experience. It is the gardeners’ name for the period in spring when there is little or no fresh produce available from a vegetable garden or allotment and productivity is at its lowest in the UK.
The reason for the hungry gap for our birds is primarily not enough natural food, because plants set seed in summer and autumn and most of this is eaten during winter; any seed left starts to germinate in the spring. We also see UK bird numbers swell by a winter migration from colder climates moving to and through the UK so there are more mouths to feed. This is an important time for birds as they need the resources for nesting and the start of the breeding season, so competition for food is rife. Once we get into May, new seeds start to appear on early growing plants like dandelions, and there is a lot more insect food available.
The good news however is that this year because of the relatively mild weather, many plants have continued growing providing vital food. At the CRT’s Lark Rise Farm, near Cambridge, our tenant farmer feeds the birds throughout winter into spring and sows bird food patches. Over wintered stubbles also help and he generally starts cultivating the ground at this time of year, which exposes much-needed seeds. Most farmers elsewhere plough up all their stubble in the autumn to plant crops before winter starts.

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