2013: Topsy-turvy year for garden birds

01 Mar 2014 | No. 2014-15

The 2013 annual results for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch (GBW) have just been published and reveal an interesting year for birds, with a very cold spring, a poor breeding season and a good autumn berry and seed crop all playing their part.

Chaffinch, illustrates the 2013 Garden BirdWatch
results rather nicely

BTO Garden BirdWatchers, who record the birds visiting their gardens each week throughout the year, saw a year of two halves in 2013. Record numbers of birds were seen in gardens during a surprisingly cold March, and then, from September onwards, we experienced the quietest winter for a decade, with birds seemingly having disappeared from gardens. 

One familiar garden bird, the Chaffinch, illustrates the 2013 Garden BirdWatch results rather nicely. An early spike in the weekly counts of Chaffinches seen in BTO Garden BirdWatch gardens in January coincided with the sudden spell of cold weather and snow across the country. There was another, longer, peak in March, brought about by the unseasonably cold weather and the fact that favoured seed resources had become scarce by this time. This March peak in Chaffinches was the highest seen since 2006.

Like many of our native birds, Chaffinches then experienced a relatively poor breeding season, resulting in very low numbers seen in gardens during late summer. Data from other BTO surveys, notably the Nest Record Scheme, indicated that the number of chicks that fledged was lower than usual.

But it was good news for the birds at the end of the year, though less good news for Garden BirdWatchers, as the nation’s gardens went extremely quiet. This resulted from a combination of relatively mild weather throughout the country and a bumper crop of seeds, nuts and berries in the countryside. Chaffinches, like many species, were at their lowest numbers in gardens for a decade, averaging approximately 1.5 birds per garden (the ten-year mean is roughly 2 birds per garden), as they were making the most of the available Beech mast and other tree seeds in the wider countryside.

Clare Simm, from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team, commented: "These results highlight how important our gardens are during extreme weather conditions, but also that although we think of these birds as garden birds, they use gardens as and when they need. Without the simple, year-round observations of BTO Garden BirdWatchers, we would not have been able to quantify these movements scientifically, or gain precise information on when they occurred."

Interested in the BTO Garden BirdWatch? For a free Garden BirdWatch taster pack, including a copy of our magazine Bird Table, please email gbw [at] bto.org, telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW Annual Results, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.


Notes for Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw.
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org
  3. There is more information on the results, including how other species fared in 2013, here: www.bto.org/gbw-results-2013

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO GBW Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2014-15

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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