Every year in January thousands of householders across the UK take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, spending an hour in their garden recording what they see and sending us their results.
This year more than half a million people took part, counting more than 8 million birds. So collating the results is a big job, but once it’s done the newspapers, TV and radio are always keen to get their hands on the final figures to report on the ups and downs in the garden bird world.
This year the big story is the fact that small songbirds have suffered in the recent unprecedented cold weather. The BBC pointed out that the weather resulted in more sightings of less frequent visitors such as fieldfares, yellowhammers and bullfinches which were forced to feed in gardens due to a lack of available food in the wider countryside.
The Telegraph reported that there were 20 cent fewer small birds like coal tits and the long tailed tit dropped out of the top ten list. As well as covering the survey results the Guardian has also been collating its photographs taken by readers during the event on Flickr – take a look here. Our personal favourite has to be a great image of two goldfinches scrapping over who gets the prime spot on the feeder.
And if you’re a fan of figures, tables and stats then the Guardian has also covered the story on its data blog. And if you want to look at the results from a different angle then head on over to the Beaky Birdsearch website where some clever person has used the results to create a search programme which produces a map – just type in your favourite bird and you can see where its strongholds are across the UK.
Having seen the results of the 2010 Big Garden Birdwatch, I am staggered to see that the House Sparrow is still the most populous garden bird. I haven't seen one here in West London for around a decade (though they used to be common in flocks around cafe tables and anywhere they could pinch scraps). We feed hugely in our garden throughout the winter and attract a wide range of birds (we're thrilled to have our first pair of nuthatches in 30 years this year!) and, although the hedge sparrow/dunnock is a regular visitor, not one single house sparrow in years. I wondered if it was a geographical thing, but having downloaded the detailed spreadsheet, I see that the house sparrow is claimed to be the 3rd most populous bird in Greater London. I simply don't believe it. I hate to cast doubt on members' birding abilities but do you think many of us townies are confusing hedge/house sparrows?
It is an interesting question. Despite the decline in house sparrow across the UK, they are still seen in bigger numbers than other species (so stick at number one). When we're announcing the results, we do stress the long-term trends more than anything else as this is the best measure of how our garden birds are doing. Having said that we did mention the changes between the last two winters this time - because of the particularly harsh winter.
In terms of house sparrow numbers in Greater London, there are parts of Greater London with large numbers of them - mainly on the outside and particularly in the east, but many more central areas of London, they are absent. The decline in urban areas in the last 15 years has been rapid and steep.
It is also worth pointing our that the top ten is based on numbers - sparrows tend to flock in the winter - if you see one, you'll probably see several. So this reason, the often appear at the top of the list. The fact that it is in third place in Greater London does highlight their relative rarity with two species are seen in great numbers. Also sparrows were seen in only 46% of all Greater London Gardens - that's pretty bad! In surrounding counties, it is seen in far more.
I hope that answers your question.