Woodland singer goes through the roof in Northern Ireland

06 May 2020 | No. 2020-15

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report on the UK’s bird species shows that one summer visitor is enjoying what Northern Ireland has to offer. How do we know? In 2019, skilled, dedicated volunteers walked towns, cities, farmland, woodlands, mountains and everything in-between to collect invaluable data from 119 1-km survey squares.

During the surveys, information on bird numbers, habitat types and mammal data were recorded and, in turn, used to produce population trends – the news is mixed.

The Blackcap, a widespread bird across the UK, has laid claim to Northern Ireland in style. Its breeding population has seen an increase of 1,540% during the last 23 years, an even greater increase than is being enjoyed by this melodic warbler across the UK. A combination of climate change, earlier laying dates than in the late 1980s and their short-distance migration are thought to have benefited the species, allowing them to expand in range and increase in abundance over time.

The Greenfinch is a well-known bird in Northern Ireland, being a frequent visitor to garden feeding stations but how much longer might this be the case? The 2019 Breeding Bird Survey results show an alarming decline; during the last 23 years the Greenfinch population has fallen by 82%. The cause of this decline is thought to be Trichomonosis, a disease that has been known in cage birds for some time. Now noted in wild finches it causes infected birds to be lethargic, fluffed-up and unable to feed. Transmission between birds can be via contaminated food and water, e.g. at garden feeding stations. Good feeding station hygiene, with regular cleaning and disinfecting can help to slow the spread. The Trichomonas gallinae parasite is specific to birds and does not pose a health risk to humans or their mammalian pets.

In Northern Ireland, it is possible to monitor the population changes for 34 bird species and it is all thanks to the dedication of the BBS volunteers who go out every spring to survey Northern Ireland’s birdlife.

Katherine Booth-Jones, Science Officer for BTO Northern Ireland, “There is an amazing network of BTO volunteers in Northern Ireland, who we rely on to chart the fortunes of our bird life. Results of the BBS show that the Greenfinch, a beloved visitor to many people’s gardens, is declining more in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. This is a worrying trend and it is thanks to the efforts of our volunteers and funding from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency that we are able to keep an eye out for all our bird species across the country.”

Mark Eaton, RSPB’s Principal Conservation Scientist, said “Greenfinches are fantastic little birds, and the flashes of green and yellow used to be a common sight at our bird feeders. The food we put out for these little seed-eaters has become increasingly important over the years, as food availability in the wider countryside has reduced. Continuing to provide food is important but you can help them, and other birds, by cleaning your feeders and water sources every couple of weeks with a mild disinfectant.”

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, and the report is published by BTO annually on behalf of the partnership.

For more information on the ups and downs of birds in Northern Ireland the full report can be accessed here.

Contact DetailsImages are available for use alongside this News Release and can be downloaded from the BTO Digital Image Library.
Please visit https://btodigitalimagelibrary.photodeck.com/-/galleries/press-images/bto-pr2020-bbs and enter the password BTOPR2020GREENFINCH to access this gallery. 

Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2020-15 if you have any queries.

Notes to editors

Population trends for 117 bird species in the UK 
have been calculated in the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) annual report. BBS is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds.

In 2019, 4005 BBS squares were covered in the UK by volunteers. The latest report can be found at www.bto.org/bbs-report

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Partnership: The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.

APEP4 is a periodic report containing population estimate for UK birds, more can be found on this here 

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves over 2,700 participants who survey more than 4,000 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of 117 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.

This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.

The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org