Sudden freezing weather drove birds into gardens

27 Jan 2016 | No. 2016-08

The unusually warm end to 2015 has resulted in quiet bird tables this winter, according to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).  As soon as the January cold snap arrived, however, BTO Garden BirdWatchers started reporting more Wrens, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in their gardens. These tiny birds are vulnerable to freezing weather, and are quick to take advantage of the lifeline provided by garden bird feeders when conditions change.

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An unusual start to the winter, including the warmest December on record, meant that there were few large influxes of birds into our gardens. The warm weather, combined with plenty of food in the wider countryside, meant that there was no need for birds to seek the food or shelter that we provide. Last week’s cold weather, however, brought a change with it for some of our smaller birds.

The number of BTO Garden BirdWatch reports of Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Wrens went up once frost and chilly temperatures set in. The average weekly reporting rate of Long-tailed Tit rose by nearly 10% from December to January, with smaller but noticeable increases of 4% and 3% for Wren and Goldcrest respectively.

This is most likely due to the fact that up until mid-January they were able to feed on the extraordinary number of insects that were still around. Once the weather turned colder, these would have become harder to find and therefore, insectivorous birds had to turn elsewhere for food. This shows the importance of feeding birds throughout mild weather so that it is there when the birds are in need.

Clare Simm, from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team, commented, "The reason we can see the effects of changing weather conditions from week to week is thanks to the thousands of people who collect data for us throughout the year. By just counting garden birds for a few minutes a week, BTO Garden BirdWatchers can help us understand how our gardens are used by birds."

Will these small birds remain in our gardens or will they leave as the weather turns warmer again? Your help is needed to find out.

To get your free magazine and information pack, or to find out more about the BTO Garden BirdWatch please get in touch by emailing gbw [at], telephoning 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU. More information can also be found at

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 13,000 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
  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

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [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 2016-08

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

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