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Big Garden Birdwatch results: All change in the top ten

Last modified: 27 March 2014

Young blue tit dangling from branch by one leg

Image: Steve Round

Almost half a million people who took part in this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch have discovered some interesting changes among our most popular garden birds, with some species that benefit from a bit of extra help creeping up the rankings. 

It's all change in the top 10, with blue tits in their highest position since Big Garden Birdwatch began, at number two. 

The previous occupiers of the second spot, blackbirds, have dropped to number four. 

Goldfinches have climbed another place since last year, and now perch at number seven. 

The robin, which has been as high as number seven in the past 10 years, has dropped back to number 10.

And there has been a new entrant to the top 20 - for the first time ever the great spotted woodpecker has squeezed in at number 20. 

'If we put up a nestbox, leave out some food or let our gardens grow a bit wild, they'll be among the first to take advantage'

Scientists believe that the weather has played a role in the ups and downs in this year's top 10, as many of the birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions. 

Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods like worms and insects in the countryside. 

Just 10 years ago, goldfinches were in 14th position, but scientists believe that the increase in people providing food like nyjer seed and sunflower hearts in gardens, may have contributed to their steady rise to number seven. 

Overall, numbers of species such as blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings may appear to have dropped in our gardens since last year. But in many cases this is not because these populations are in decline, but because these species don't need to come into our gardens during mild winters due to there being plenty of natural food available in the wider countryside. 

'Red-listed' starlings and thrushes declining

However the continuing declines of some species are of greater concern. Numbers of starlings and song thrushes have dropped by an alarming 84 and 81 per cent respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979. Both species are on the UK 'red list', meaning they are of the highest conservation concern. 

There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as the declines appear to have slowed, and it remains the most commonly-seen bird in our gardens. However, it remains on the red list as we have still lost 62 per cent since 1979. 

Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, says: '2014 was always going to be an interesting Big Garden Birdwatch as the winter has been so mild, and we wondered if it would have a significant impact on garden birds. 

'They were out and about in the wider countryside finding natural food instead of taking up our hospitality. The good news is that this may mean we have more birds in our gardens in the coming breeding season because more survived the mild winter. It is a great time to give nature a home by putting up a nesting box and supplementary feeding.' 

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, says: 'Many garden birds rely on us humans for help. During winter, birds need extra food and water, and at other times of the year, as well as sustenance, a safe place to shelter and make their home can really give them a boost.  

'Two of the species that moved up the rankings this year, blue tits and goldfinches, are adaptable, friendly garden birds and great examples of birds that can flourish with our help. If we put up a nestbox, leave out some food or let our gardens grow a bit wild, they'll be among the first to take advantage.'

Schoolchildren go wild, too 

This year, for the first time, participants were also asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens. 

The RSPB asked whether people ever see deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads in their gardens, to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home. This information will be analysed and results will be revealed next month. 

The Big Schools' Birdwatch is part of the Big Garden Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools has revealed that the blackbird is the most common playground visitor for the sixth year in a row. 85 per cent of schools that took part in the survey in the Big Schools Birdwatch saw blackbirds, with an average of five birds seen per school, slightly down on 2013 figures. 

Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB's latest campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK's threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it's by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species. 

The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature. Find out how you can give nature a home where you live by visiting the project website.

How you can help

Find out which birds were the movers and shakers in this year's Big Garden Birdwatch charts.