Unusual garden visitors

UK gardens have seen a boom in the number of visits from unusual migrant birds

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

Home » Unusual garden visitors

Published: 2 April 2017

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

  

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This year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, held over the last weekend in January, revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia.

Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 compared with the last couple of years, with sightings as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland.

Search for milder conditions

Close to half a million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, counting more than eight million birds during the 38th Big Garden Birdwatch.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors.

Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.

‘In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.’

DR DANIEL HAYMOW
RSPB conservation scientist

Good news for blackbirds and robins

There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb two places to number seven, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings.

Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 93% of UK gardens.

The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-11%), great tits (-10%) and coal tits (-14%) on last year’s figures.

‘Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.’

DR DANIEL HAYMOW
RSPB conservation scientist

Wildlife-friendly gardens

This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.

Waxwings

 

‘This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.’

CLAIRE THOMAS
RSPB Wildlife Advisor

Big Schools’ Birdwatch

The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children spend an hour in Nature counting birds.

Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession with over 88% schools spotting at least one. The top three was rounded off by starling and woodpigeon.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.

Click here to view the full RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results.

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