Sunday 31 January 2010

Big Garden Bird Watch

It’s always interesting to take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch each year and spend an hour seeing just how many birds are coming to the food we put out. Watching the birds regularly we know that the weather plays a huge part in numbers. The garden is quite exposed, facing south across Strathspey to the Cairngorms. In stormy weather there may be no birds at all. In mild weather there may be few birds. Last year it was cold and dry with a strong wind and no snow on the ground. We counted 19 individual birds from 9 species. For 5 species just 1 bird appeared. That was with two people counting so all the feeders and tables were observed throughout the hour. This year I was by myself. Due to the complete snow cover, the +1ºC temperature and the lack of wind I expected many birds, especially as the severe conditions have lasted over six weeks without a break. Counting was difficult at times due to the number of birds and the speed with which they flew in and out but I ended up with a conservative 54 individuals in 10 species. With only 2 species was there just 1 individual. Chaffinches were the most common with 25 seen at one time (probably more but at least that number). Last year there was just one. Other birds seen were 10 coal tits (last year 8), 5 blue tits (last year 2), 3 great tits (last year 2), 3 blackbirds (last year 1), 2 robins (last year 2), 2 great spotted woodpeckers (last year 0), 2 greenfinches (last year 0), 1 dunnock (last year 1) and 1 pheasant (last year 1). The only bird we saw last year that didn’t appear this year was a sparrowhawk, which flew in near the end of the count, ensuring that we saw no more birds.

Photo info: Coal Tits on seed feeder. Canon EOS 450D, 55-250@250mm, 1/400@ f5.6, ISO 100, raw file cropped and converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6


  1. Great idea - such tiny animals to survive the cold.

  2. Kristina Gravette1 February 2010 at 19:56

    Interesting. Thanks for posting this Chris. Here in Issaquah, Washington State, we have had a very mild winter, apart from a week of sub-zero temps at the beginning of December. At the moment we're having few visitors besides the ubiquitous chickadees, and nuthatches, and an occasional Anna's hummingbird. The interesting thing this year has been the flock of bushtits that descend on my feeders now and then - it's the first year they've come to them - usually they stay in the alders out front.

  3. Chris, do the crested tits ever venture away from the forests and into the gardens if food becomes really scarce?

  4. Hawthorns, yes they do but not this winter so far. One year we saw crested tits regularly. There have also been no red squirrels on the feeders this year, though we have seen one in the garden. For a few years we had red squirrels every day.

  5. Chaffinches down 27%, Starlings down 79%, Blackbirds down 18%, House Sparrows down 62% since 1979! I wonder what the perecentage increase for Birds of Prey is since 1979? It doesn't take a genius to work out where these birds are going. 26,000 nesting pairs of Sparrowhawks alone, need 52,000 songbirds a day that is close to 19 million a year! (Thats not even including the Peregrines, Goshawks and other birds of Prey. This is biggest reason these poor songbirds are being decimated. Several articles have appeared recently in National newspapers highlighting this and now the Garden Watch is providing the proof! We need to start opening our eyes otherwise the days of looking out of window at seeing blue tits, chaffinches and wrens will sadly be over!

  6. Actually predator-prey relationships have virtually nothing to do with songbird decline. Scientists for the British Trust for Ornithology have studied this in depth and published a report of their findings:

    "Tthis robust study found that, for the majority of the songbird species examined, there is no evidence that increases in common avian predators and grey squirrels are associated with large-scale depression of prey abundance or population declines. It is also clear that, for the majority of declining species with unfavourable conservation status population, declines appear to be due to factors other than predation.

    Other studies have suggested that over the period of this study, songbird population changes have been influenced by a range of other factors, most notably changes in farmland and woodland management."