I always look forward to the Big Garden Birdwatch results coming out. Well, I do and I don't! There is always some trepidation as to whether the nation's combined results will reveal any worrying trends. But I do look forward to seeing if the results in my garden match the national picture, and it is a great prompt to think about what I can do to improve things ready for next year.
Regular readers will know that I am fortunate enough to have a large garden, but it is nevertheless a fully suburban garden. There are no open fields or woods over my garden fence - just roads and houses and other gardens, and a very big dual carriageway rumbling by. On my Big Garden Birdwatch Count this year, I was able to enjoy 64 birds of 23 species.
Top of the tree for me? Wood Pigeon. A whopping sixteen of them. Quite different to the national average of 2.3 per garden. I don't feed them supplementary food, either by having an open bird table or by putting food on the ground, so apart from a few taking the crumbs from underneath the finch feeders, these are all birds that like my garden for the trees, and at this time of year the Ivy berries.
Nationally, Wood Pigeons are the biggest winner since the Birdwatch started in 1979, with numbers up ten-fold. You know what? I actually think they're a fine looking bird. This is one I photographed from my bedroom window.
In the garden, they don't rove around in big flocks, and I use home-made cages to protect young crops in the veg bed, so I'm happy to enjoy their presence and their gentle lowing song. But it seems there's nothing much I need to do to help them - they're doing perfect well on their own.
My number two was Goldfinch, with ten birds on the count. This, too, is a species that has done incredibly well nationally, up 40% in the last ten years. Isn't it nice to have some good news stories, especially about a bird that is so attractive?
The big worry is with the other finches. I managed a count of three Greenfinches, against a national average of 0.4 per garden. Numbers are down a staggering 66% since 2009 due to this horrible disease they are suffering from. It is one of the reasons I don't feed from an open bird table, and I move my feeders between different locations on a regular basis. Those shocking national trends show that I must continue doing that. Here are two of my Greenfinches and two Goldfinches on the new feeder outside my upstairs window, which I raise on a pulley.
Chaffinch is becoming almost as big a worry as the Greenfinch. I managed a count of two, against a national average of 1.3, but the country-wide change since 2009 is a drop of 35% so maybe next year I'll struggle to even get that. They are not so adept at clinging to the birdfeeders, so they largely have to fend for themselves looking for seed around the rest of my garden, so I'll be looking to see if I can plant more beds of annual flowers that can set seed.
I have a niggling worry about Collared Doves (below). Their numbers nationally are down 27% on the Birdwatch since 2009. Is it the burgeoning numbers of Wood Pigeons, or is there some other problem? I was lucky to have my resident pair on the count, who are currently nesting in a Lawson's Cypress, so I'm thinking that I might put in another ornamental conider. Definitely not a Leylandii, but one that is better behaved. They are such useful trees to offer early season nesting opportunities for so birds including Blackbirds, Robins and indeed they are a favourite nest-site for Greenfinches.
My AWOL bird remains the Starling. They continue to shun my garden. My theory is that the garden is so different from what they are used to around here because of all my trees that they just view it as too strange, too much a step into the unknown. (I know I'm not along in having theories about my garden wildlife - I bet you have some about your anomalies, too!)
My sneaky Starling plan is to draw birds in this spring with nestboxes - nesting sites are in such short supply that they'll be forced to investigate, and then they'll get used to the garden and bring their friends in.
And then there's my House Sparrows. My count this year was four, still lower than the national average of 4.4, but my flock is slowly building from zero two years ago. Again, nestboxes are my starting point, which has given them a foothold in the garden and this spring it looks like I may have two or even three nesting pairs. I'm aiming for a feeding flock of 20 within three years. Now there's a challenge, and I'm feeling motivated to go for it!
Adrian's new book/CD/digital download, The RSPB Guide to Birdsong, was released this week on 4 April and looks set to fly off the shelves! More on it shortly, but with all the birds now bursting into full voice, now is the time to get it if you want to learn all about bird songs and calls and how to tell one from another.
rest assured, Peter, I stuck to the rules :) Maximum counts at any point in the hour rather than aggregates. The BGBW inspectorate would have my guts for garters otherwise!
I trust that Adrian was observing the Birdwatch rules and submitting only the maximum number of birds of a species that he saw at any one time during the hour and not the aggregate number of birds of that species so as to avoid double-counting etc!
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