Unusual number of birds in gardens during April cold snap

05 May 2016 | No. 2016-18

At this time of year most birds are starting to think about raising young, and many head out of gardens for that purpose. During the unusually cold start to April, however, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch had more reports of some species than normal. Will this change as the weather warms or is something else at play? Your help is needed to find out.

The UK nesting season is well underway and most winter migrants have left.  A colder than average March and April, however, seems to have encouraged some birds to remain in gardens that would normally be moving out. Wintering Blackcaps normally start migrating back to their breeding grounds in central Europe from February. Unusually, however, they were reported from almost 16% of BTO Garden BirdWatch gardens last week; almost 50% more than in April 2015. We assume that these are winter migrants rather than summer migrants arriving, as breeding Blackcaps rarely visit gardens during the spring and summer.

Other species are also being seen in more gardens than usual for the time of year. Reed Bunting, a bird that would normally be breeding in farmland and wetland areas at this time of year, has been reported from almost a third more gardens than April 2015, and even Blue and Great Tits are being seen by more Garden BirdWatchers than normal.

Clare Simm, from the Garden Ecology team, commented “One of the great things about Garden BirdWatch data is that we can see how birds are using gardens from week to week and compare it to their normal patterns. We might see a sharp drop in the number of gardens reporting Blackcaps and Reed Bunting if the weather improves over the next week, but it shows the importance of gardens for a wide range of species throughout the year.”

Hopefully Blackcaps and Reed Buntings will resume their normal routines as the weather improves, but your help is needed to find out.

To find out more about taking part in BTO Garden BirdWatch, including a free enquiry pack and magazine, please get in touch by emailing gbw [at] bto.org, telephoning 01842 750050, write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU or visit www.bto.org/gbw.

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 www.bto.org/gbw.
  2. You can explore the Garden BirdWatch results online 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.www.bto.org

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at] bto.org

Viola Ross-Smith
(BTO Science Communications Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2016-18

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