Can you believe that #BigGardenBirdwatch is only 4 days away! Following on from last week's countdown, we're now taking a look at some familiar faces that made the top 5 in the Big Garden Birdwatch charts here in the east last year. If you haven't downloaded your free Big Garden Birdwatch pack yet, there's still plenty of time, just visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

5. Down two places, it's the blue tit - a colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors. In winter, family flocks join up with other tits as they search for food. A garden with four or five blue tits at a feeder at any one time may be feeding 20 or more. 

Blue tits dropped two places in the 2017 Big Garden Birdwatch charts after a 16% downturn in sightings. Changes in weather during breeding seasons can have a big impact on these small birds.

2016’s prolonged wet spell meant there were fewer caterpillars about for feeding their young. It’s likely that this led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there were fewer seen in gardens.

However, long-term trends are slightly less worrying, with a small 2% decrease in the region since 2007.

 

4. Up one place at number four is the woodpigeon - the UK's largest and commonest pigeon. It is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Although shy in the countryside it can be tame and approachable in towns and cities. Its cooing call is a familiar sound in woodlands as is the loud clatter of its wings when it flies away. 

Woodpigeons have successfully made the most of our feeders and tables over the last ten years, increasing by an impressive 56% across the east, and a whopping 1060% across the UK over thirty years! When times are tough in the wider countryside, woodpigeons will happily munch on whatever seeds are going in our gardens.

3. Another climber, taking the number three spot is the blackbird - males live up to their name but, confusingly, females are brown often with spots and streaks on their breasts. The bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring make adult male blackbirds striking. 

These familiar garden visitors have soared by 38% in the region since 2007, and are now the region’s (and the UK’s) most widespread bird, having been seen in 96% of our gardens. Gardeners can help this success to continue by avoiding the use of garden chemicals, and by planting shrubs that provide blackbirds with caterpillars, berries, or both.

2. Holding on to second place is the starling - at a distance starlings look black, but when you see them closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. 

However, despite being the second most seen bird in our gardens, the drop in starlings over the last 30 years is somewhat more depressing.

A 79% reduction in numbers nationally since 1979, and a 22% decline in the region since 2007, are largely undetermined. It is known though, that starlings are heavily dependent on soil invertebrates like earthworms and leatherjackets, and it is possible this food supply has either declined or perhaps become less available during dry summers.

1. Another non-mover in at number 1, it's the house sparrow - noisy and gregarious little birds, house sparrows are cheerful exploiters of man’s rubbish and wastefulness, having managed to colonise most of the wild: the ultimate avian opportunist perhaps. 

However, since 1979, the house sparrow population has decreased by 57% since 1979. Here in the east, the decline has not been so severe with a decrease of 7% since 2007.

Possible reasons for this decline include a reduction in the availability of their preferred foods, increased levels of pollution, loss of suitable nesting sites, increased prevalence of disease, and increased levels of predation. However, the exact causes of these rapid declines remain unclear.

How will these birds fare this year? Sign up for Big Garden Birdwatch to let us know.

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