How did the 2012 downpours affect nesting in garden birds and what will 2013 hold?

01 Apr 2013 | No. 2013-15

After contending with an exceptionally wet spring and summer, in most parts of the UK last year, how will birds nesting in our gardens fare in 2013? Help the BTO find out by taking part in the Nest Box Challenge (NBC).

The BTO is calling on householders across the UK to help them track the progress of nesting birds in gardens during 2013 by getting involved in this year’s Nest Box Challenge.

Gardens provide both food and nest sites for birds, and an increasing number of species are choosing to raise their offspring in our back gardens. Recent analyses of BTO data suggest that over a third of UK Blackbirds now nest around human habitation, favouring thick hedges and shrubs, while over a fifth of the nation’s Blue Tits breed in our villages, towns and cities.

Birds had to contend with an exceptionally wet summer in 2012, which reduced the abundance of caterpillars, a food source that species such as Blue and Great Tit depend on to provide food for their chicks. A comparison of NBC results for 2012 with those from the Nest Record Scheme (NRS), the BTO’s survey of nesting birds in the wider countryside, suggests that those breeding in gardens may have fared better, as NBC Organiser Hazel Evans explains: “Blue Tit and Great Tit clutch sizes in all habitats were around average in 2012. However, NRS participants recorded a reduction in brood sizes of about 20%, a much bigger drop than that noted in gardens by NBC participants.”

If birds in gardens are better able to cope with extreme weather events, this could have longer-term implications with regards to climate change. “The impact of weather, be it a wet summer or a warming climate, on the breeding success of birds, may be influenced by their diet,” states Dr Dave Leech, Head of the Nest Record Scheme at the BTO. “If birds are increasingly foraging on non-native garden plants or relying more heavily on supplementary food, they may be less susceptible to changes in the availability of more ‘traditional’ foodstuffs, such as caterpillars.”

“Will the terrible weather in 2012 have reduced the numbers of birds breeding in gardens this year?” asks Hazel, ”and will the cold winter lead to smaller clutches and fewer fledglings? Nest Box Challenge participants can answer these questions by counting eggs and chicks in any nests they find in their garden, from Collared Doves on satellite dishes to Blue Tits in boxes, and entering their records on the NBC website.”

Notes for Editors

  1. 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
  2. Participants follow a special Code of Conduct to ensure nesting attempts are not put at risk. Originally the project focused on nests in boxes, but it has since been expanded to incorporate all nests in gardens, including the Collared Dove nest on your satellite dish!
  3. Nest Box Challenge is organised by the BTO. The project was launched in 2007, in conjunction with the BBC - join the nest monitoring community by registering today!
  4. Nest Box Challenge 2012 results can be found here
  5. Under the BTO/JNCC Nest Record Scheme (NRS), established in 1939, volunteer nest recorders gather vital information on the productivity of the UK’s birds, using simple, standardised techniques. Over 35,000 records, each detailing the contents of individual nests, are currently submitted each year, allowing long-term trends in breeding success to be produced for over 70 species.

Contact Details

Hazel Evans
(NBC Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: nbc [at]

Dr Dave Leech
(Head of Nest Record Scheme)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: dave.leech [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2013-15

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

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