Biggest-ever influx of one of our smallest garden birds

07 Dec 2017 | No. 2017-39

This November, Coal Tits were seen in over 70% of gardens, according to figures from the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Cold weather or a lack of tree seeds in the wider countryside may be behind the rise in sightings.

Participants in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch survey have been keeping weekly records of the birds seen in their gardens over the last 20 years, an incr­­­edible citizen science project that enables us understand how birds use human habitats such as gardens. Coal Tits are among our smallest garden birds, and are often driven away from bird feeders by the larger, more aggressive Great Tits and Blue Tits. They have a habit of darting to a feeder, quickly taking a seed and hiding it in moss or a crevice to eat later. Coal Tits can be recognised by their striking black-and-white striped heads, and by their overall brown and grey plumage, with none of the yellow or blue colour seen in Great Tits and Blue Tits.
In the summer Coal Tits normally remain within woodland, and are recorded in fewer than a third of gardens. In the winter they ­are seen in more gardens, and are generally recorded by at least 40% of Garden BirdWatchers in November, when they are driven to garden bird feeders by cold weather. However, in some years they are seen in many more gardens, and research using GBW data has shown that their presence is affected by seasonal availability of tree seed crops in the wider countryside. This year is turning out to be exceptional, with Coal Tit seen in an unprecedented 70% of gardens in November!

Over 11,000 Garden BirdWatchers will be watching and recording their garden birds this winter and into the future. This allows us to understand patterns of garden use and see long-term changes and trends.
Claire Boothby, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “We know from our research that the food and water provided in gardens can be a lifeline, particularly at times of cold weather and reduced natural food. With all this activity and more cold weather forecast, it is a great time to start paying more attention to the bird life in your garden, and we urge everyone who watches their garden birds to regularly record though Garden BirdWatch.”
This is the perfect time to join Garden BirdWatch ready for 2018, or sign up a friend or family member as a Christmas gift. New joiners in December will receive a book on garden birds and wildlife and, for a limited time only, the BTO 2018 calendar, which is marked with Garden BirdWatch weeks and other bird survey dates. To find out more, please contact us by email (gbw [at], visit or call us on 01842 750050 (Mon-Fri 9am-5:00pm).

Notes to editors

1.The BTO Garden BirdWatch survey is carried out by around 11,000 volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK. More information can be found at:  British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch

2. GBW results can be found at: BTO Garden BirdWatch

4. The importance of Sitka Spruce seed and garden feeders for Coal Tit is discussed in a scientific paper here

3. 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.

Contact Details
Claire Boothby

(GBW Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Email: Claire.boothby [at] ()
Kate Risely
(GBW Organiser)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Email: Claire.boothby [at] Kate Risely (GBW Organiser) Office: 9am to 5:30pm Email:" target="_blank">kate.risely [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Mobile: 07585440910
Email: press [at] ()

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. 
Please contact images [at] quoting reference December 2017 - 39

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

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