We often tend to think of threatened birds as living out in the wider countryside, like curlew, hen harrier and lapwing. Yet many of the birds which can be seen in our parks and gardens are struggling to survive and thrive too. You may have even counted some of these species on your recent Big Garden Birdwatch! The latest Birds of Conservation Concern 5 report, which was released in December 2021, shows that 1 in 3 species are now on the UK Red List of Conservation Concern. Depending on where in England you live, taking a few simple steps ahead of the approaching spring could make a real difference to the fortunes of some our red-listed birds. We’ve pulled together a practical guide to how you can use your gardens and local green spaces to help some of our more threatened species where you live.
For some of our Red Listed species, it can be as simple as providing or leaving suitable nesting locations accessible! Many species have adapted to live happily alongside us, but as our building designs evolve, nesting spaces can become harder and harder to find. Others are new to the neighbourhood but have been struggling to survive in their traditional habitats. A warm welcome can go a long way in helping these birds to thrive.
More than half of our breeding UK starlings (66%) have disappeared since the mid 1970’s. It can be hard to see the big picture when you’ve noisy flocks gathered at your feeders but these boisterous birds are finding it harder to survive in our countryside, due to a lack of food and nesting sites. They love to nest near to each other, so making or buying nest boxes which have been designed for their needs and installing them at home can really help! You can read more about starling population trends here
In 1977, you could have seen 10 house sparrows for every 3 you spot today (a 71% decline) These sociable birds can have three or even four nests a year if conditions are right, so popping up some sparrow nest boxes and filling those regularly cleaned feeders could help them raise lots of chicks each year! They need protein-rich insects to feed to their chicks so making your garden a haven for bugs and beasties will help sparrows too. They also love a busy hedgerow, climbing plants, trees and bushes to perch and hide in, so planting these around your garden provides cover that can help attract them and other smaller birds. You can read more about house sparrow population trends here
House martins were added to the UK Red List, in December 2021, following years of steady decline in England and Wales (although they are doing much better in Scotland and Northern Ireland). Their numbers in England have more than halved since 1969 (falling by 57%). House martins are another species that have adapted to use man-made structures for nesting sites but with numbers falling, you can give them a helping hand by ensuring that existing nests in your local area are not damaged by any building work and installing specially designed nesting cups ahead of their return in spring. Creating garden ponds or water features with muddy edges may also help house martins to find insect food and mud for building nests with. You can read more about house martin population trends here.
Swifts can be found nesting in buildings in many villages, towns and major cities including London, Brighton, Oxford, Bristol and Greater Manchester. Sadly, their numbers have fallen by over half (58%) since 1995 and fewer birds are returning to breed here each spring. Modern building designs and renovation methods often lack the nooks and crannies that cavity nesting swifts need but installing special nest bricks and swift boxes around your home can really help. You can also help us monitor where swifts are nesting by logging your sightings on our Swift Mapper. You can read more about swift population trends here .
For others, providing clean food and water at key times can help – the key is to keep up the hygiene. While providing seed for birds can be really important, regular cleaning and hygiene around feeding stations is crucial to prevent outbreaks of disease. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a week and bird baths/watering bowls, daily!
This garden bird has been hard hit by a disease called Trichonomosis, which can be spread through droppings contaminating food or water – particularly in situations where birds group together. This beautiful little bird was a common sight in gardens, but the population has fallen by more than half (63%) since 1993. Good garden bird feeding hygiene is essential to help minimise transmission of Trichonomosis (and other bird diseases). Clean feeders weekly, move them around to prevent build-up of material underneath and replace water in bird baths daily.
You can read more about greenfinch population trends here.
Mistle thrushes are the larger, and paler cousin of the more familiar song thrush and can occasionally be seen in gardens. Actions that could help your local mistle (and song) thrushes include avoiding the use of pesticides in your garden, which affects the slugs and snails they eat, and leaving tall trees and berry bushes full in winter. You can read more about mistle thrush population trends here
If you don’t have a garden or community green space that can be used to help wildlife, then please consider supporting our vital conservation work through a donation to our Red List Appeal. Every donation helps us to do more for the threatened wildlife that depends on us to give nature a home.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
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