BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 02 Apr '18

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results reveal a golden year for the goldfinch

The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a golden year for the goldfinch along with a number of other small birds after a surge in sightings in gardens across the country.

Now in its 39th year, the Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden, helping the RSPB build up a picture of how they are doing. This year, more than 420,000 people across the country took part counting an impressive 6.7 million birds.

Finches and tits

The event, held over the last weekend in January, revealed an increase in goldfinches and other sightings of smaller birds, such as long-tailed tits and coal tits that can usually be seen visiting gardens and outside spaces in flocks.

Recorded sightings of the brightly coloured sociable finch rose by 11% on 2017 figures, with its bright red face seen in more than two-thirds of gardens. Other small birds that are thought to have benefited from the mild January weather include long-tailed tit (+16%), coal tit (+15%), and blue tit (+5%).

It also proved to be a good year for the greenfinch; a 5% rise in sightings is a welcome sign for a species that has undergone a 58% decline in sightings since the first survey in 1979.

A picture of garden birds

The influx of these species to our gardens is thought to be linked to the favourable conditions during their successful breeding season in 2017. This, combined with the kind autumn and winter weather in the run up to the Birdwatch, will have contributed to the rise in sightings.

The warmer temperatures during the autumn and winter will have made it easier for these birds to find food, like insects, in our gardens, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.

‘Our garden birds are a part of our everyday life, whether it’s the robin perched on the garden fence or the flock of starlings you see on your way to work. To have hundreds of thousands of people spend an hour watching the wildlife in their garden isn’t only great to see, but it also helps us build up a picture of how our garden birds are doing, which is really helpful.

‘Last summer was a really good year for many breeding birds with warm weather creating great conditions for many smaller birds to raise their young to adulthood. The rise in sightings of goldfinch, long-tailed tit and coal tit, along with chaffinches and greenfinches, goes to show that in the absence of cold weather they can survive the winter months in good numbers. Looking at the results it is likely that across the UK this is what people are seeing in their garden.’

DANIEL HAYMOW
RSPB conservation scientist

Blackbirds, robins and wrens

The survey also highlighted a dip in the number of recorded sightings of blackbirds (-18%), robins (-12%) and wrens (-11%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained that ‘unlike the finches and tits, robins and wrens did not have a good breeding season in 2017 and data from other surveys indicate that their numbers may be down overall this year.’

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings at the most commonly seen garden birds, with more than one million recorded sightings throughout the weekend. Starling held down the second spot once more, with the blue tit moving up one spot to round off the top three.

Throughout the first half of the spring term the nation’s school children took part in the RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in school grounds saw close to 60,000 school children spend an hour in Nature counting the birds.

Despite a drop in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings, the blackbird remained top of the Big Schools Birdwatch rankings with one being spotted in 88% of schools – a 22% increase on 2017.