Feeling blue: garden acrobat takes a tumble

No.:  2010-09-39
September 2010

The Blue Tit, perhaps our most iconic garden bird, is slipping away from bird feeders. The British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO’s) Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS), which celebrated its Ruby Anniversary last winter, revealed a 42% decline of this species in gardens over the past 40 years.

Blue Tit in snow by Jill Pakenham

Blue Tit numbers have fallen
in gardens since 1970-71.

If there is one species that is synonymous with bird feeders, it is the Blue Tit. Colourful and acrobatic, the sight of a Blue Tit foraging busily in a garden would be a thing of wonder were it not for its apparent ubiquity. But ubiquitous it is not, falling from an average weekly count of 5.3 individuals per GBFS garden in the winter of 1970/71 to 3.1 individuals last winter.

It is not alone; 40 years of the GBFS bear out long-established, precipitous declines in Starlings and Song Thrushes (both down by 75%), and in House Sparrows (down by 70%). After a meteoric rise in the first 30 years of the survey, numbers of Collared Doves have also fallen, down by more than a quarter in the past 10 years.

However, it is not all bad news. Fuelled by nyjer seed and sunflower hearts, Goldfinch numbers have multiplied more than 25 times over in the past 20 years, while Long-tailed Tits have exhibited a tenfold increase in GBFS gardens. Four times as many Great Spotted Woodpeckers now dart into GBFS gardens than at the start of the survey, hammering and probing their bills into a wide variety of foods.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer, commented “The GBFS reveals that Blue Tits are declining in gardens, while other BTO surveys hint at a downturn in their population at large. In gardens, changes in bird feeding could be responsible; where once the supple dexterity of the Blue Tit would have been king – feeding on monkey nuts threaded on string, peanuts in a mesh feeder, coconut shells stuffed with fat – modern foods and feeders mean that Blue Tits face stiff competition from other species.”

David Glue, BTO Research Ecologist, added “Forty years of the GBFS has provided a fantastic resource. It is the longest running survey of its kind in the world and has only been made possible through the dedicated observations of hundreds of UK householders who participate voluntarily. With urbanisation and the development of new bird care products continuing apace, the importance of the GBFS will continue to grow.”

For tips on how to attract Blue Tits and other species to your garden, the BTO has produced a free guide entitled Feeding Garden Birds. To request this guide please telephone 01842 750050 and ask for the GBW team, email gbw [at] bto.org or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

Blue Tit

1.  Blue Tit


4.  Goldfinch

Song Thrush

2.  Song Thrush

Long-tailed Tit

5.  Long-tailed Tit

House Sparrow

3.  House Sparrow

6.  Forty years of the GBFS: winners and losers

% change
in 40
years of
the GBFS
in 40
years of
the GBFS
Song Thrush
Feral Pigeon
House Sparrow
Mistle Thrush 
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow 
Long-tailed Tit
Pied Wagtail 
Great Tit

Contact Information

Tim Harrison (Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at] bto.org

David Glue (Research Ecologist)
Home: 01442 822341

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07845 900559 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2010-09-39.

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