Garden feeders support more birds than ever

No.:  2011-41
October 2011

More birds are using food supplements provided in gardens than ever before. Newly published results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) show that the number of species seen during autumn and winter is up by almost 50% since the 1970s.

Goldfinch by John Harding

Goldfinch has been a main winner

Gone are the days when feeding garden birds was centred on kitchen scraps, suet-filled coconut shells and monkey nuts threaded on string. Today, garden bird feeding is a multi-million pound industry, with a bewildering array of food and feeders on offer. Newly published results from the GBFS show that during the 1970s an average garden feeding station hosted 16 species during autumn and winter. This figure rose sharply to 21 species last decade before reaching an all-time high of 23 species last winter – up by half (49%) on the winter of 1970–71, when the GBFS commenced.

While numbers of some species – including House Sparrow, Song Thrush and Starling – have declined, the huge influx of other species has resulted in an overall increase. The main winners have been:

  • Goldfinch (1% of gardens in the 1970s, 61% now)
  • Long-tailed Tit (3% of gardens in the 1970s, 29% now)
  • Woodpigeon (5% of gardens in the 1970s, 67% now)
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker (7% of gardens in the 1970s, 30% now)
  • Nuthatch (9% of gardens in the 1970s, 22% now)

Some 40–50% of UK householders are now thought to feed birds in their gardens, with an estimated 50–60 thousand tonnes of bird food provided per annum. With feeding opportunities changing rapidly, the GBFS is playing an essential role in charting effects on birds.

GBFS data show that many species – including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodpigeon, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Jay and Chaffinch – use garden feeding stations more when natural foods are in short supply. While the trend for more species using garden feeders is great news for householders, it does raise important questions about the availability of food for birds in the wider countryside.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden Ecology Team, commented: “Changes in farming practices and woodland management appear to be pushing individuals of many species out of these habitats, while increased availability of specialist bird foods and feeders is pulling them into gardens.”

David Glue, BTO Research Ecologist, added: “Over its 41-year history, a total of 177 species have been recorded using garden feeding stations through the GBFS, highlighting the important role that gardens can play.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The GBFS started in the winter of 1970–71 to examine the increasingly popular activity of providing food for birds in gardens and is the longest-running study of its kind in the world. Observations are made on a weekly basis from October to March, with the maximum number of each species seen using food or water provided, or observed hunting the birds that are using these resources, recorded. The GBFS encompasses approximately 250 gardens in each year that are selected carefully from the larger BTO Garden BirdWatch survey to ensure good geographical coverage across the UK, and a roughly even split between rural and suburban garden types.
  2. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org
  3. The figures presented for Goldfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch are the average percentage of GBFS gardens visited per week in the 1970s vs. the average percentage of GBFS gardens visited per week in autumn/winter 2010–11.

Contact Details

David Glue
(BTO Research Ecologist)
Tel: 01442 822341
(9am-5.30pm)

Mike Toms
(Head of Garden Ecology)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am-5.30pm)
Mobile: 07527 443626

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO PressOfficer)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am-5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2011-41