House sparrow tops Big Garden Birdwatch

NEARLY half a million people across the UK, including 7,878 in Dorset, spent an hour over the last weekend in January watching the birds that visit their garden or outdoor space as part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, counting nearly eight million birds in total.

The results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch show that smaller birds such as long-tailed tits, wrens and coal tits were seen in greater numbers than in 2019, thanks to the milder winter.

Now in its 41st year, the Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden, helping the RSPB build up a picture of how birds are doing.

The results show that the house sparrow was in the number one spot in the UK, and there was an increase in sightings of long-tailed tits, wrens and coal tits, three of the smallest species to visit our gardens. The milder weather at the start of the year appears to have helped populations of these species, as small birds are more susceptible to spells of cold weather.

The Big Garden Birdwatch was first to alert the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers. This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979. By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979, it came in at 20th in the rankings this year, seen in just 9% of gardens.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Small birds suffer during long, cold winters but the warmer January weather this year appears to have given species such as the wren and long-tailed tit a boost. Over the survey’s lifetime, we’ve seen the increasing good fortunes of birds such as the coal tit and goldfinch and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling. But there appears to be good news for one of these birds. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 53% (1979 – 2020), in the most recent decade (2010-2020) numbers appear to have increased by 10%. Giving us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening.”

The house sparrow was at the top of the Dorset Big Garden Birdwatch rankings, starling was second, with the blue tit completing the top three.

Throughout the first half of the spring term nearly 70,000 school children, including 600 in Dorset, took part in the RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch. Blackbird was the most numerous species seen in school grounds, with an average of five per school; and was seen in 85% of the schools that took part.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: “We know that for many people, garden birds provide an important connection to the wider world and bring enormous joy. These are difficult and unsettling times for all of us, but we hope that nature can provide a welcome respite in whichever form and wherever you may encounter it. Watching wildlife, whether from a window or a balcony or even online, can offer many of us hope, joy and a welcome distraction, and so we are keen to help you carry on connecting with the natural world.”

For a full round-up of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Pictured: Song Thrush on stone slab in garden, photograph by Chris Gomersall; a long-tailed tit on an RSPB peanut feeder, photograph by Nigel Blake; © rspb-images.com