RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 – The UK winners and losers

Back in January millions of us submitted our results to the RSPB for the annual check on the status of our garden birds. Now the National results are out, and there are as always some big winners and big losers…

Baby House Sparrows, Leeds

I shared my own results in January and saw a few changes. Now we see what’s happening across the UK.

  1. House Sparrow

2. Starling

3. Blackbird

4. Blue Tit

5. Wood Pigeon

6. Goldfinch

7. Robin

8. Great Tit

9. Chaffinch

10. Long-tailed Tit

The top ten are unchanged, though within that ten there is some jockeying for position. A 17.9% increase in Blackbirds recorded moves them to third, and a 12.2% jump for Robins sees them climb from 9th to 7th. House Sparrows and Starlings remain the top two, but both also so a welcome increase in numbers after decades of decline.

For there to be winners there must be losers, and it’s Blue Tits and Great Tits that have been hit, dropping 11% and 10% respectively. Further down the chart Coal Tits took a 14% decline too, suggesting this group in particular have had issues. Most likely this is a result of the exceptionally wet start to 2016. This will have negatively impacted on food availability which in turn reduces the number of youngsters fledging successfully. Hopefully we have a better year in 2017 and see some recovery in the 2018 Big Garden Birdwatch.

Chaffinches and Greenfinches had big drops, 20% and 27% respectively. Even Goldfinches took a slight hit at 1% fewer. This may be a source of alarm, but it could equally reflect milder winters meaning these birds spent more time away from gardens on natural food sources. Greenfinches have also had issues with trichomonosis which may still be playing a part.

Local Greenfinch getting into breeding mode

Out of the top ten Wrens and Dunnocks both had increases. Whether this is genuine or just conditions making them more apparent it’s hard to say.

The spread of birds is interesting too. Blackbirds may be third for average number seen, but were spotted in 93% of gardens, more than any other species. The gregarious Starling is second, but occurs in less than 50% of gardens. Goldfinches too, while high in the charts and flourishing, only actually occur in around a third of gardens. They topped the chart for my personal list this year, and it is these dense successful flocks that have pushed it up the national picture.

Male chaffinch

The survey has been running nearly 30 years now, and it has seen some remarkable changes, with the likes of House Sparrows, Starlings, Greenfinches and Chaffinches down, while Blackbirds and Robins recover. Yet surely nothing is more remarkable still than the emergence of the Goldfinch as out most common garden finch? Thirty years ago, for most, it was a rare treat. Today it is omnipresent in parts of the country as a year-round feature. Yet still a treat.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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