Birds on your doorstep: highlighting 50 years of change in bird populations

Birds on your doorstep: highlighting 50 years of change in bird populations

07 May 2023

House Sparrow. John Harding / BTO

The UK is home to 73 million fewer breeding birds today than it was in 1970, according to a new analysis by BTO researchers.

By using data from BTO and partnership schemes, together with other published sources, BTO researchers have been able to estimate the size of UK breeding bird populations, both today and back in 1970.

The results reveal a staggering decline, the UK breeding bird population estimated to have declined from 232 million individuals in 1970 to 159 million individuals today. The scale of the decline is actually greater than this, because some of the losses are offset by gains in other species (e.g. the large increase in Wren and Woodpigeon populations and the colonisation of the UK by species such as Cetti’s Warbler and Little Egret).

  • Almost 30 million House Sparrows, 20 million Starlings, four million Skylarks and two million Blackbirds have been lost since 1970.

A degree of detective work was required to assemble the different sources of information, particularly as recording was more fragmented back in 1970. Recording birds on such a large scale isn’t easy and some numbers are difficult to ascertain. While this adds a degree of uncertainty to the figures for some species, we can be confident in the overall picture of loss.

Many people will recognise the changes seen in bird populations more local to them, and this is something that is brought home in one particular aspect of this work, ‘Birds on your doorstep’. This interactive component presents the results at a local level, so that anyone can see the changes that have happened on their doorstep simply by entering their postcode.

Both the headline figure, and the local detail provided by ‘Birds on your doorstep’, deliver a powerful message that the UK’s birds are in trouble and that we all need to do more.

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