What birds are in your garden?


Did you take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? Top spot went once again to the house sparrow. Birdwatch is organised by the RSPB and this was the 39 year of the nationwide survey. People were asked to observe birds for an hour during the last weekend of January, either in their garden or in a local greenspace or park. In the first year, 1979, 39,000 people took part, this year it was more than 420,000. The RSPB claims that this makes it the biggest survey of its type in the world.

As house sparrow numbers have been declining it is good news that they seem to be thriving in and around towns and cities. There are far fewer of them in rural areas than there once were; diesel fumes from tractors suit them far less than the spilt grain from horses’ feeding bags used to.

Over the whole of England, the next most numerous species were starling, blue tit, blackbird and wood pigeon. Wood pigeons have certainly taken to gardens over the last few decades, and, although we no longer see the spectacular murmurations of starlings over Birmingham city centre, small parties of them are often around bird feeders during winter afternoons. The top ten was completed by goldfinch, great tit, long-tailed tit, robin and collared dove. Goldfinches and long-tailed tits would probably not have figured so highly ten or twenty years ago, and collared doves hardly at all in the first survey 39 years ago.

The RSPB have not released any information apart from the top ten birds. This is frustrating for those who want to see where their own favourite visitors come in the pecking order. Most surprising to me is the absence of dunnock and magpie, although I guess they are still in the top twenty. If birds flying over are included (the instructions to observers are unclear about this) jackdaws and various gulls are probably there as well. On the other hand, in my neighbourhood there have been hardly any great tits or chaffinches this year.

This, of course, is one of the fascinating things about wildlife, in that it rarely conforms to our ideas and expectations. Surveys like the Big Garden Birdwatch engage people directly with the natural world and reveal the infinite and constantly changing patterns of nature. They also make a valuable scientific contribution.

Twitter: @PeteWestbrom


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