Garden feeders support record diversity of birds

The BTO’s Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) had charted the use of garden feeders for over 40 winters. The wealth of information collected has revealed a huge increase in the number of species of birds coming to feed during autumn and winter.

Newly published results from the GBFS show that in the 1970s an average garden feeding station hosted 15.9 species during autumn and winter. This figure rose sharply to 20.7 species last decade before reaching an all-time high of 22.7 species during the winter of 2010-2011 – up by 49% on the winter of 1970–71, when the GBFS commenced. 

This increase in species diversity has occurred as food and feeders in gardens have become more widespread and have been tailored increasingly to the needs of individual species. As can be seen in the table below, only in a handful of species has the percentage of GBFS sites visited declined since the 1970s. For many species, the increase in the percentage of GBFS sites visited has increased remarkably over recent decades. 

Species
% 1970s
% 2010-11
Relative change (%)
1
61
4562
5
67
1130
1
14
1069
3
29
1061
2
14
659
1
7
480
7
30
313
12
43
246
4
11
205
2
5
172
9
22
153
1
3
149
13
33
148
4
9
119
35
65
83
1
1
82
1
2
76
3
5
70
6
9
50
8
13
50
1
2
48
48
69
43
1
2
43
65
86
33
82
87
6
86
91
6
84
87
3
61
62
2
95
96
1
83
82
-1
7
6
-11
13
11
-17
91
63
-31
85
49
-42
9
4
-55
12
4
-68
47
14
-71

Participants in the GBFS record the maximum number of each species using food or water provided for them on a weekly basis between October and March. Predatory species, such as Sparrowhawk, which are spotted hunting the birds that are use these resources, can also be recorded. Over its history, a total of 178 species have been recorded through the GBFS.

A record total of 96 species were logged in GBFS gardens during the winter of 2010-2011, up by four on the previous high set in 2007–08. By contrast, during the first winter of the survey, back in 1970–71, a total of only 64 species were spotted. New bird foods, changes in farming and woodland management and the UK’s maturing gardens since World War Two are likely to be the main factors in having supported this upturn.

Highlights during the 2010-2011 winter included Waxwings, as part of the largest influx of this migrant since the winter of 1965–66. The delicate Brambling was also spotted in large numbers, occurring at a staggering 44% of GBFS sites. Cold winters can occur in clusters, and only with the help of householders will we be able to find out how our birds are getting on this coming winter.
 



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