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Mistle thrushes missing from UK gardens

Last modified: 25 January 2013

Mistle thrush perching in tree

mistle thrush

Image: Graham Catley

Mistle thrushes are disappearing from UK gardens says the RSPB.  The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey – back this weekend - shows that mistle thrushes are now seen in fewer than half the number of gardens they were seen in ten years ago.

People are being urged to take part in the 34th annual Big Garden Birdwatch - the World’s biggest wildlife survey - on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January 2013, to keep vital information about these, and other garden birds, coming.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, says; ‘Everyone that has ever taken part in Big Garden Birdwatch has helped to make us aware of huge changes in the populations of birds like house sparrows, starlings and song thrushes, leading us to do more work on the decline of these familiar birds.  Mistle thrushes are already on the amber-list of conservation concern and are closely related to the threatened song thrush.  The rate of decline we’ve seen throughout Big Garden Birdwatch suggests both these species are in need of help. ’ 

Almost 600,000 people across the UK, including 90,000 pupils and teachers at schools, took part in the Birdwatch last year counting more than 9 million birds between them.   

Everyone can join in by spending just one hour at any time over Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time then submitting the results to the RSPB.  Schoolchildren and teachers will be doing the same in their schoolgrounds as part of Big Schools’ Birdwatch between now and Friday 1 February.

Sarah Houghton, RSPB manager for the Birdwatch, said; ‘No matter where people take part, whether at home with the family, with classmates at school or with friends in the beer garden of the local pub, we’re all joining forces to gather vital information about some of our most familiar garden birds.  It’s a great way to get to know the creatures that live around us, and that’s especially important for children.  Feeding garden birds can often be a child’s first encounter with wildlife and can spark a lifelong interest in nature.”

Now in its 34th year, the Birdwatch has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in UK garden birds.  In the first survey in 1979, an average of 15 starlings were seen per garden, but that fell to an average of just three starlings per garden in 2012, the lowest level ever.  House sparrow numbers have fallen by two thirds over the lifetime of the survey too.

Sarah continues; ‘The declines of birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years or so have been alarming, but Big Garden Birdwatch has helped us find out more about their numbers and distribution across UK gardens, and that has been the first step in helping to put things right.’

Some bird species have fared considerably better over the years.  Sightings of popular species like blue tits, great tits and coal tits in gardens have increased since 1979.  Goldfinches, which were absent from the Big Garden Birdwatch top 15 in the early years, have featured regularly as a top 15 species since 2004.

Visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch and www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch to find out how to take part at home or at school, and visit BBC Nature to watch live images from feeder cameras at the RSPB’s Lodge nature reserve.  They will be broadcasting from dawn until dusk on Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, and you can join in the live webchat with RSPB and BBC Nature experts.

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