RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2022 – A golden year for Scottish finches

Ian McNab

Friday 8 April 2022

House Sparrow remains number one, but this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch saw a rise in the number of goldfinches recorded in Scotland and a glimmer of hope for the Red-listed greenfinch.

  • House Sparrow remains number one, but this year’s survey saw a rise in the number of goldfinches recorded and a glimmer of hope for the Red-listed greenfinch
  • Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest wildlife survey and gives RSPB scientists insights into how our garden birds are faring
  • This year over 44,000 people across Scotland took part, counting more than 800,000 birds

House Sparrows held on to the top spot, but the goldfinches were the biggest climbers of the top ten, with 43% more counted compared with last year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest wildlife survey and gives RSPB scientists insights into how our garden birds are faring.

Now in its 43rd year, Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden or a local park or green space, helping the RSPB get a snapshot of how they are doing. This year over 44,000 people across Scotland took part, counting more than 800,000 birds.

After dropping 4 places in 2021, goldfinches made a partial recovery this year, climbing back up to number 8 after being recorded in almost 30% of gardens. One of our most colourful garden birds with an unmistakable bright yellow wing stripes and red face, goldfinches are attracted to plants such as teasels, dandelions and lavender. They also feed on nyjer seed which is often used in garden feeders.

RSPB Scotland Director Anne McCall said “Nature lovers have much to be concerned about in today’s world – but the rise of the goldfinch around our homes, towns and cities is just an uplifting joy. The fact that they are doing well is for me a message for hope – that we can live alongside wildlife in a nature positive world.   

“It’s been brilliant to see so many people taking part again this year, taking time out to watch and reconnect with birds and then generously submit their sightings to help RSPB scientists gain some insights into how our garden birds are faring.”

Big Garden Birdwatch results also found a small increase in greenfinch compared to 2021. This gives scientists a glimmer of hope that this might be the first signs of a popuation recovery, but only time will tell. In recent years the greenfinch has suffered a population crash across the UK (62% since 1993) caused by a severe outbreak of the disease trichomonosis and as a consequence the species was added to the UK Red list last year. This infection is spread through contaminated food and drinking water, or by birds feeding one another with regurgitated food during the breeding season. Garden owners can help slow transmission rates by temporarily stopping the provision of food if ill birds are seen and making sure that garden bird feeders are cleaned regularly.

The house sparrow remained at the top of Scotland’s Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird, with more than 145,000 recorded sightings throughout the weekend. Starling and blue tit remained in the number two and three positions respectively.

Over its four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world. It was first to alert the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers, which are still down 81% across the UK compared to the first Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979.  This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 at that time. By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979, and it came in at 22 in the Scottish rankings this year, seen in just 8% of gardens.

Throughout the first half of the spring term the nation’s school children took part in the RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch. The survey of birds in school grounds saw over 5,000 school children and their teachers in Scotland spend an hour in nature counting the birds. Carrion crow was the most numerous species seen with an average of 8 per school; and was seen in 67% of all schools that took part. Starling was a close second with blackbird completing the top three.

Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species for RSPB Scotland, said, “Thanks to everyone who took part in Big Garden Birdwatch. It’s now spring and we can all keep that connection to nature going by experiencing the dawn chorus. This is the sound of birds everywhere getting ready for the breeding season, establishing territories, seeking a mate, warning off love rivals. It’s an annual miracle and you can experience it almost anywhere, even in cities. All you need do is wake up early – dawn is just before 6.00 am in April – and get outside, or even just listen at your window. And you can share your experience on social media using #DawnChorusDay. You don’t have to know the identity of every bird that you hear – all you need do is enjoy the dawn chorus experience.”

Dawn Chorus Day takes place on Sunday 1 May 2022. RSPB Scoland will also be hosting special Dawn Chorus events on its nature reserves. Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/dawnchorus.

Last Updated: Friday 8 April 2022

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Giving nature a home where you live Topic: Scotland Topic: Big Garden Birdwatch