Jan 31
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Thousands take part in Big Garden Birdwatch

It’s been a busy weekend for bird watching in the UK, with thousands of people taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

In last Thursday’s blog, I wrote about the importance of this annual event for monitoring the UK’s garden bird populations, and how it could show the effects of a cold winter on different bird species. Now the results are flooding in to the RSPB, and once analysed they will add to over 30 years of valuable data on the UK’s birds.

Photo of male chaffinch

The chaffinch topped my Big Garden Birdwatch, with at least nine individuals seen feeding.

A Birdwatch in Bristol

Although I’m not lucky enough to have my own garden – unless you count a tiny square of concrete – I was able to join in the Big Garden Birdwatch with a friend. And despite the chilly weather, there were plenty of birds to be seen.

Photo of a mistle thrush perched on blackthorn, swallowing a sloe berry

Some species were not so obliging - two mistle thrushes only turned up after my count had ended.

In addition to a small flock of chaffinches, there were several garden regulars such as blue tits, great tits and a robin, while blackbirds enjoyed apples put out on the lawn and a hungry jackdaw dropped in to pinch the remains of a sandwich.

Photo of house sparrows

Conspicuous by its absence? Despite being the most commonly recorded species in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, house sparrows are in decline across the UK - I saw none in my survey.

Other species were around but not recorded on the day, such as the dunnock and European starling, although the latter was seen flying nearby. Some once common species, such as the house sparrow, were noticeably absent.

The RSPB predicted that recent cold weather would result in increased sightings of more unusual garden visitors, such as redwings, fieldfares and possibly even the beautiful waxwing. Unfortunately no-one had told this to our birds, and no rarities were recorded on the day!

Photo of brambling standing in snow

The brambling, an attractive but more unusual garden visitor.

What did you spot?

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch? What birds did you see? We would love to hear about the birds that visit your garden – whether that’s in the UK or anywhere else!

Read more about the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Find out about species found in the United Kingdom on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 27
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Big Garden Birdwatch begins – what will you spot?

One of the world’s largest wildlife surveys, the Big Garden Birdwatch, is being launched in the UK this weekend by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Taking place on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th January, this annual event brings together bird lovers up and down the UK to record the bird species visiting the nation’s gardens and parks. Anyone can take part, and the results will provide the RSPB with vital information on how the UK’s bird populations are faring.

Photo of female house sparrow

Although it occurs in almost two-thirds of UK gardens, the house sparrow is undergoing a worrying decline in the UK.

Important bird trends revealed

The Big Garden Birdwatch is now in its 32nd year, and has already given important insights into some of the UK’s favourite birds. Despite being the most commonly recorded species last year, house sparrow numbers have fallen by a startling 62 percent since 1979, while the starling, which last year was the third most common species, has plummeted by 79 percent.

Photo of European starling

The European starling was recorded in over half of gardens in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, but its UK population is in dramatic decline.

However, it’s not all bad news, with species such as the long-tailed tit and goldfinch doing well in recent years, and most gardens still being home to favourites such as blackbirds, blue tits and robins.

Photo of male goldfinch on gorse

Food provided in garden feeders benefits many birds, and may be contributing to the recent success of species such as the goldfinch.

Impacts of a cold winter

The results of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will also be useful in helping scientists understand how the coldest December on record has affected bird numbers in the UK. Small birds are particularly vulnerable to harsh weather, and last year’s cold winter saw big declines in species such as coal tits and goldcrests.

Photo of redwing eating sloe berry from blackthorn tree

A cold winter last year saw a 185% increase in redwings visiting gardens. The coldest December in the UK for 100 years means more unusual sightings are likely to be recorded this year, too.

The recent bad weather may also see more unusual species visiting gardens, with the possibility of spotting redwings, fieldfares and even the odd waxwing.

According to the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Mark Avery, “The really cold weather began quite early in December, and this would have been when natural food sources became scarce. By now, these birds could have been making the most of our hospitality for over a month, meaning even more unusual sightings this weekend.

Photo of a greenfinch in threat posture

Unlucky for some? The greenfinch came in at number 13 in last year’s survey, but outbreaks of the parasitic disease trichomoniasis have seen its numbers plummet.

Will you be taking part?

In last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, over one million participants helped to spot a staggering 8.5 million birds, with 73 species recorded across nearly 280,000 gardens. This year’s event looks to be just as big, and the results will continue to help conservationists to monitor the health of the UK’s garden birds.

Are you taking part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? What’s the most unusual species you’ve seen in your garden? Do use the comments below to let us know how you get on!

Visit the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for details of how to take part.

View a selection of British birds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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