Annual Results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO’s) Garden BirdWatch have just been published. Huge cold weather movements of Reed Bunting, Redwing and Fieldfare into gardens were charted in 2010, although Goldcrest numbers tumbled. Wales was the top country for many species, including Robin, House Sparrow and Blue Tit.
Opening with the coldest winter in 30 years, and closing with the chilliest December in a century, 2010 was remarkable for both people and birds. The extreme conditions drew many scarce garden visitors into our towns and cities and, throughout the year, thousands of BTO Garden BirdWatchers across the UK and Ireland made telling observations of the birds that graced their patches.
Welsh householders were more likely to see an array of garden favourites in 2010 compared with people in England and Scotland. These included the popular Robin, with 86% of Welsh gardens occupied during an average week, and the canny Magpie, with 65% of plots frequented. House Sparrows, although a red-listed species of high conservation concern, have actually done very well in Wales in recent years, with more than three-quarters of gardens occupied versus less than two-thirds in England.
Compared with the long-term average, as calculated since 1995 when Garden BirdWatch began, many less common garden birds increased their presence during 2010. Throughout the UK and Ireland, Redwing and Fieldfare, both winter migrants that breed in Iceland and Scandinavia, exhibited 68% and 94% increases, respectively, coping with the worst of the winter weather by snaffling up the generous offerings of the public. They were joined by farmland buntings, most notably Reed Buntings, which were twice as abundant in 2010 than in an average year.
Bullfinches were another big garden success story. This handsome, somewhat corpulent finch has been in long-term decline nationally, but during 2010 householders were almost 75% more likely to have hosted this colourful bird compared with the long-term average. Bullfinches often appear in small groups, feeding congenially on opposite sides of a seed feeder, and their increase suggests that gardens may be becoming more important for them. Other species that continued their recent march into gardens include Goldfinch (up by 90%), Woodpigeon (29%) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (23%).
Many smaller species, however, appeared to struggle. One of our smallest, the Goldcrest, fell by more than a third in gardens in 2010 compared with the long-term average, with reduced immigration of continental birds during autumn contributing to this trend. Records of diminutive garden songster, the Wren, were also well-below normal, consistent with a recent downturn in gardens. The loss of these small birds hints at the impact of the severe winter conditions.
Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “With prolonged periods of snow and ice at the beginning and end of 2010, large movements of Reed Bunting, Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling into gardens were expected – and this is exactly what happened. However, without the simple, year-round observations of BTO Garden BirdWatchers, we would not have been able to quantify these movements scientifically or gain precise information on when they occurred.”
He added: “It is very exciting that so many birds were especially common in Welsh gardens in 2010. Its westerly location means that Wales is, on average, that bit milder than many other parts of the UK and it appears to have been a refuge for birds over the past year. Looking forward, there are lots of reasons to be positive about garden birds in Wales.”
For a free BTO Garden BirdWatch taster pack, including a copy of our magazine Bird Table, please email gbw [at] bto.org, telephone 01842-750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.
Notes for Editors
- Frozen in time: cold weather movements 2010
- 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 15,000 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
- 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.
Tim Harrison (GBW Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at] bto.org
Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
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Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org
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