Scottish garden birds this winter: the colourful results

01 Jan 2011 | No. 2011-01

Amidst the snow in Scottish gardens this winter, birds have delivered stranded householders much-cherished parcels of colour. Yellowhammers – vivid in their brilliant golden attire – alongside Waxwing and Siskin have occurred in many more Scottish gardens than elsewhere, the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO’s) Garden BirdWatch reveals.

Waxwing - whose plumage
appears to be fresh out of a
1980s make-up parlour

With their bright yellow plumage, akin to that of a Canary, Yellowhammers have brought a touch of the exotic to frozen Scottish gardens this winter. Since November 2010, this species has been spotted in more than a quarter of Scottish gardens compared with just 6% of gardens in the rest of Britain and Ireland. This increase is extraordinary, not least because only around 10% of Scottish gardens are visited by Yellowhammers in a normal winter (see graph below).

Scottish householders who participate in the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch have also observed large numbers of other colourful species recently, with perhaps the most glamorous being Waxwing. This striking visitor, whose plumage appears to be fresh out of a 1980s make-up parlour, is a real birdwatchers’ bird – a sporadic winter migrant to our shores that always generates much excitement. Siskin and Brambling have also flocked into Scottish gardens, the latter being recorded at an incredible 48% of sites – more than double that found in the rest of Britain and Ireland.

However, there have also been casualties. Small birds such as Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits are known to be hit hard by severe winter weather but, in Scotland, larger species have also struggled. Buzzards are a notable addition, with two BTO Garden BirdWatchers having discovered corpses of this large raptor in their gardens during December (see photos in Notes for Editors). If any Scottish householders have seen a dead bird in their garden this winter the BTO Garden BirdWatch team would like to know: gbw [at]; 01842 750050.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “Housebound Scots have been treated to spectacular displays of colour in their frozen gardens this winter courtesy of visiting birds. In addition to Yellowhammer, Waxwing and finches, Fieldfares have also poured in from the wider countryside with more than a third of Scottish gardens occupied – much more than elsewhere.”

He added: “The influx of birds into Scottish gardens indicates their desperation to find food and some individuals, such as the dead Buzzards found in Selkirkshire and Fife, did not make it. We have been able to chart the fortunes of our garden birds this winter through the simple observations of Scottish householders who participate in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch. The survey runs throughout the year so we encourage anyone who enjoys watching birds to get involved.”

Graph showing Yellowhammers in Scottish gardens this winter compared with previous winters.

Notes for Editors

Scottish Garden BirdWatcher Photographs
  1. Dead Buzzards found by BTO Garden BirdWatchers Bob Stock in Selkirkshire (left) and Jeanette Buick in Fife (right)
  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
  3. 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.

Contact information

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

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
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 2011-01

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

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