More than 585,000 people across the country took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, spending an hour over the weekend of 24 and 25 January watching their gardens and recording any feathered friends which made a flying visit - close to a 100,000 increase on 2014. In Greater Manchester, nearly 16,500 people took part, helping to contribute to the national results.
The results are now in, and overall more than eight-and-a-half million birds were spotted, making it another bumper year for the Birdwatch. Refreshingly, sightings of every bird that featured in this year’s national top 20 increased on the numbers recorded in 2014, apart from finches - a trend which was also seen in Greater Manchester with lower numbers of chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch compared to last year.
However, the average number of robins seen visiting gardens nationally was at its highest since 2011, helping it climb three places to number seven in the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings, its joint highest-ever position. The robin also climbed up the sightings rankings from eleventh to eighth position in Greater Manchester.
Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 90% of UK gardens. In Greater Manchester, blackbirds fell from third to fourth position, but were seen in 88% of gardens – an increase on last year.
Despite being the UK’s smallest garden bird, twice as many people picked out a wren calling by their garden this year than in 2014, consolidating its place in the top 20 most popular garden birds nationally. In Greater Manchester, the wren flew into 22nd position after being spotted in 24% of gardens compared to 15% last year.
The lack of finches at the bird table and feeders may not signal further bad news, especially for the already declining greenfinch, as a better seed supply in the countryside means that we saw fewer visiting our gardens.
However, this beautiful bird has declined nationally by 53% since 1979, and any hint of a further reduction in numbers is worrying. Trichomonosis Disease, also known as 'canker' has been a major documented part of greenfinch mortaility. Intriguingly, the top four locations for greenfinch in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch are islands; Orkney Islands, Isle of Scilly, Eilean Siar and Isle of Anglesey, possibly suggesting the disease hasn’t spread to these areas yet. This further highlights the need to maintain a high level of hygiene at garden feeding stations to halt the spread of Trichomonosis.
There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as its long term decline appears to have continued to slow, and it remains the most commonly spotted bird in our gardens nationally. However, it remains a conservation concern as numbers have dropped by 57% since 1979.
For the second year running, participants were also asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens. The RSPB asked whether people ever see slow worms and grass snakes as well as deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads in their gardens, which were all added last year. This information, which will help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home, will be analysed and results will be revealed next month.
The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch, continued the record breaking theme with more schools and children taking part than ever before. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools had almost 90,000 participants and revealed that blackbird is the most common playground visitor for the seventh year in a row. The top three was rounded off by starling and house sparrow, which is now at its highest-ever position in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch rankings.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond to support a number of different creatures or building a home for a hedgehog.
To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit: rspb.org