The long weekend of Saturday 27th to Monday 29th of January was cold, damp and rather grey, but it didn’t deter thousands from taking part in our annual Big Garden Birdwatch.

It did, however, reduce bird activity, with many species opting to save energy by sheltering from the biting winds.In the south east, sightings of three of the five most commonly seen species were down compared with figures from 2017.

Year-on-year changes are mostly caused by weather, but thankfully, the Big Garden Birdwatch has been running long enough for us to see the bigger picture. The great news for the south east is that after years of decline, which threatened to see-off the house sparrow, their numbers are gently increasing in most parts of the south east (Surrey is an exception).

This graph shows the changes in the top five most common south east garden birds from 2005 to 2018. 


One of the many great things about the Big Garden Birdwatch is that it takes stock of the birds that live around us all, mostly in private gardens and spaces where surveyors wouldn’t normally have access. It doesn’t record birds in the wider environment and this is worth remembering when we look at the on-going population declines (declined when compared with both 2005 and 2017) of two top five species: starlings and blackbirds.

Starlings were placed on the “red-list” of species of conservation concern when monitoring by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) found numbers fell 66% in the UK since the mid-seventies. Recent data from the Breeding Bird Survey suggest continuing population declines affecting starlings in England and Wales since 1995. The cause is unknown. Starlings gather to create those amazing clouds of birds, known as murmurations. In my lifetime (fifty years), examples of this aerial spectacle have dwindled and now the only one of great note remaining in the south east happens on the seafront in Brighton.

The other bird recording declines compared with last year and 2005 is the blackbird. This member of the thrush family is familiar to most people and is found in more than 80% of gardens. This year, their recorded numbers were down 22% compared with last year (down 14% from 2005 figures). Blackbirds are one of the unsung heroes of gardens, where they eat a number of pests and add to our soundscape with their song, often mistaken for that of a soulful nightingale. Fret not, blackbirds were recorded in high numbers in parks and school playgrounds in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch; the Big Garden Birdwatch’s sister survey undertaken by teachers with their pupils. The birds had abandoned gardens for bigger open spaces, so the drop in numbers does not set-off alarm bells.

Long-tailed tits turned-up in large numbers across the UK, but especially in the south east. The national rise in sightings compared with 2017 was 16% but in the south east it was an amazing 28% leap! Recorded sightings of the brightly coloured goldfinch rose by almost 20% in the south east, compared with a national average of 11% on 2017 figures. Its bright red face was seen in more than two-thirds of survey sites, while long-tailed tits were recorded in about a third of them.

 Other small birds that are thought to have benefited from the mild January weather across the south east include coal tit (+40%), and blue tit (+10%). It also proved to be a good year for the greenfinch after a 2.4% rise in sightings, a welcome sign for a species that has undergone a 78% decline in sightings in the region over the past ten years.

The influx of these species to our gardens is thought to be linked to the favourable conditions during their successful breeding season in 2017. This, combined with the kind autumn and winter weather in the run up to the Birdwatch, will have contributed to the rise in sightings.

See the eight tables below, showing the top ten birds for each of the south east’s counties, the Isle of Wight and Greater London.

If you'd like to do more to attract birds to your garden, visit our website to request a booklet on simple things you can do to give nature a home.

 

  

 

 


 

 

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