Citizen Scientists reveal how snow brings birds into gardens

No.:  2013-04
January 2013

Participants in the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) weekly Garden BirdWatch survey have revealed just how big an impact the recent spell of snowy weather has had on our feathered friends. Taking just one familiar species, the Blackbird, as an example, these ‘Citizen Scientists’ have shown that the number of Blackbirds visiting gardens in mid-January was the second highest in a decade.

Blackbird by John Harding/BTO

The number of Blackbirds visiting gardens was
the second highest in a decade

One of the great strengths of the BTO Garden BirdWatch is that its participants submit their records on a weekly basis, allowing researchers at the BTO to see what effect bad weather has on our birds. With several thousand participants submitting their records weekly over the Internet, it also means that the effects of bad weather can be spotted very quickly.

To provide a flavour of how January's snowfall has affected our birds BTO researchers have looked at the records of Blackbirds submitted from across the country. The Blackbird is a common and familiar garden species, whose breeding population is supplemented in winter by the arrival of birds from elsewhere in Europe.

As Mike Toms, Head of Garden Ecology, explains:  “This winter, we saw the average numbers of Blackbirds increase throughout October and November before they suddenly fell away with the arrival of a mild and wet spell just before Christmas, bucking the normal pattern. The arrival of the cold weather and snow during the second two weeks of 2013 changed all this and we saw a sudden leap in the average numbers. In fact, for the week beginning 13th January, the average count (which was 5.51 individuals) is our second highest from a decade of recording. The snow that followed later that week may have driven even more Blackbirds into our gardens, something that we'll be able to report on after this 'count' week has ended and our observers can enter their records.”

He continued “Of course, it is not just Blackbirds that have increased their use of gardens because of the snow. We have seen similar patterns for many other species, live results for which can be viewed on the BTO Garden BirdWatch website (http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw/results). If it remains cold then we predict a busy weekend for the RSPB’s Big Garden BirdWatch.

Notes for Editors

  1. The weekly Blackbird records from Garden BirdWatch can be viewed here, the blue line showing what happened in 2012 and the black line showing the first three weeks of 2013.
  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 14,500 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.
  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

Mike Toms
(BTO Head of Garden Ecology)

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

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

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

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.  Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2013-04

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