Changing of the guard for London's garden birds

01 Apr 2011 | No. 2011-15

Stunning new results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) year-round Garden BirdWatch survey show that the hefty Wood Pigeon is now more common in London gardens than either Robins or Blackbirds. Meanwhile the diminutive Goldcrest has cropped up increasingly. A new ‘taster’ version of the survey is helping even more people to get involved.

Nine out of ten gardens in Greater
London are visited by this dumpy species

Londoners who participate in BTO Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world, have revealed a dramatic recent influx of Wood Pigeons into the Capital. Nine out of ten gardens in Greater London are now visited by this dumpy species, up by almost a third since 1995 (see graph). Although elegant, with its soft pink and grey plumage and smart white collar, Wood Pigeons are a divisive presence with householders owing to their seemingly insatiable appetite. Indeed, a single Wood Pigeon can eat the same quantity of food as seven sparrows!

On the opposite end of the body size spectrum, the tiny Goldcrest – which weighs the same as a 10 pence piece – has been spotted in a third more gardens locally in 2011 compared with the long-term average, as calculated since 1995. The urban landscape of Greater London results in warmer temperatures than are found in the wider countryside, which benefit Goldcrests through winter and into spring. Excitingly, almost two thirds more Londoners have seen a Goldcrest in their garden during 2011 than the average for the rest of Britain and Ireland.

House Sparrows and Starlings are both flocking species and so, numerically, they remain London’s most abundant garden birds. However, the percentage of gardens visited by these iconic birds continues to slide. Since 1995, one in five Londoners has lost their Starlings completely, while, astonishingly, almost half have lost all of their House Sparrows.

With so many exciting and important trends emerging, the BTO is encouraging more Londoners to take part in Garden BirdWatch by trying a new three-week taster version of the survey. BTO Garden BirdWatch has run every week since 1995 and has over 700 participants in Greater London alone.

Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “Londoners can be amazed at the birds that they have in their gardens. Despite its urban landscape, Greater London supports a wide variety of garden birds, many of which – including Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Great Tit – are much more common here than people might think.”

He added, “These results demonstrate Citizen Science at its best. Who would have guessed that Wood Pigeons would be spotted more often in local gardens than Blackbirds and Robins? Only the acrobatic Blue Tit is now seen more frequently. Anyone who watches garden birds for at least a few minutes during most weeks can become a BTO Garden BirdWatcher. Through the survey, simple observations make a real scientific contribution.”

For a free BTO Garden BirdWatch ‘taster’ pack, including a copy of the survey’s quarterly magazine Bird Table: email gbw [at], phone 01842-750050 and ask for the Garden BirdWatch team, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors 

1.  London’s unique garden bird community: Top 20

  1. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.
  2. 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 15,000 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

Contact information

Tim Harrison
(BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contactimages [at] quoting reference 2011-15

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

Related content