Scotland's new garden bird exhibits north-south divide

No.:  2011-39
October 2011

Southern Scotland has gained a new garden bird over recent years and numbers of this species are on the up. The Nuthatch, a russet and blue acrobat, visited more than one in ten gardens in southern Scotland over the past few months – a record high. In northern Scotland, however, the Nuthatch remains a sporadic garden visitor, as the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch survey reveals.

Nuthatch by Mark R Taylor 

Scotland have acquired the stunning Nuthatch
as a new garden bird

It’s not often that a country can celebrate a new garden bird, but since the 1990s gardens in southern Scotland have acquired the stunning Nuthatch. This small, almost triangular-shaped bird – perhaps most famous for its ability to climb and descend tree trunks at speed – has darted into many local gardens of late, feasting on peanuts and seeds provided by wildlife-friendly householders. Early autumn is the best time of year to see Nuthatches in local gardens, so Scottish birdwatchers have much to look forward to over the coming weeks. These exciting findings have emerged thanks to the simple observations of hundreds of Scottish householders who participate weekly in the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey.

Nuthatches are a widespread species in England and Wales but their presence further north is constrained by climatic conditions. It is most likely, then, that our warming climate is facilitating the spread of Nuthatches into southern Scotland, with food provided in local gardens also appearing to help them on their way. In 1995, no BTO Garden BirdWatch participants in southern Scotland recorded Nuthatch on their patch. Numbers grew but stayed low over subsequent years before really taking off around 2005, with 7% of householders recording this species by 2010. Sightings in southern Scotland have again increased in number this year, with 11% of Garden BirdWatch sites frequented over the last few months.

In northern Scotland, Nuthatches remain scarce. Over the 16-year duration of the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey, sightings of this species in northern Scotland have remained patchy with no consistent trend emerging. There is good reason to predict, however, that Nuthatches will continue their northwards spread in future, so householders in northern Scotland should certainly keep their eyes peeled. Indeed, only last winter Brian Neath, a BTO Garden BirdWatcher near Dornie, Ross-shire, had the first ever confirmed record of Nuthatch in the district of Skye and Lochalsh – so you never know what might turn up!

Mandy Cook, Development Coordinator at BTO Scotland, commented: “The north-south divide in the emergence of Nuthatches in Scottish gardens is really striking. While householders in the south of the country have been enjoying the sight of this busy species on their garden feeders more often, those in the north still only host this bird on rare occasions. Scottish gardens are on the front line of this rapidly changing picture and householders can be really excited about what might happen over the coming months and years.”

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer, added, “BTO Garden BirdWatch is a great community project with over 950 householders already involved across Scotland, helping to conserve the region’s birds. We really want to top the 1,000 mark, so that we can look in more detail at regional patterns within different parts of Scotland. In a new initiative, the BTO is encouraging more householders to get involved by requesting a free ‘taster’ pack, including advice on providing for garden birds. Anyone who watches birds in their garden for at least a few minutes during most weeks can easily give the survey a go.”

Give BTO Garden BirdWatch a go by requesting a free three-week ‘taster’ pack: email gbw [at] bto.org or telephone 01842 750050. 

Notes to Editors

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. Visit www.bto.org

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 14,000 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. Data presented here are from BTO Garden BirdWatch, using quarter-year averages. For more information about the project see www.bto.org/gbw

For information on the most common garden birds in your area please visit: www.postcodebirds.bto.org

Contact Details

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

Mandy Cook
(BTO Scotland, Development Coordinator)
Office: 01786 466560
(9am-5.30pm)
Email: mandy.cook [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2011-39

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