Big Garden Birdwatch results reveal mixed picture for Scotland's garden birds

Allie McGregor

Friday 5 April 2019

House sparrow Passer domesticus, juvenile, looking upwards, on garden lawn. Co. Durham.

  • House sparrow remains at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings with tens of thousands of them recorded across Scotland, but for many species fewer birds were recorded than in 2018.
  • Over 32,000 people across Scotland spent an hour watching the birds that visit their garden or outdoor space as a part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, counting almost 600,000 birds in total.
  • For many people, garden birds remain an important link to nature and RSPB Scotland wants to do more to increase this connection to help both wildlife and people.

The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a mixed picture for Scotland’s garden birdlife, with 13 of the top 20 species being seen in fewer gardens than in 2018.

Now in its 40th year, the Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden helping the RSPB build up a picture of how they are doing. This year, more than 32,000 people across Scotland took part in counting almost 600,000 birds.

The results from the event, held over the last weekend in January, revealed house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden birds. There were more than 100,000 recorded sightings of house sparrows in Scotland. Starling and Chaffinch also held down the second and third spots once more.

There was a decrease in garden sightings of wrens and long-tailed tits, two of the smallest species to visit our gardens. Long-tailed tits decreased by more than 10% and wrens by 17% in 2019. Populations of both species may have been affected by last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ as small birds are more susceptible to spells of cold weather. It’s too early to say if this is a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend.

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. This species was a firm fixture in the UK top 10 in 1979. By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979. It came in at 24th in the Scotland rankings this year.

Keith Morton, RSPB Scotland Senior Species Policy Officer, said: “Across 40 years the Big Garden Birdwatch survey has painted a positive picture for birds such as wood pigeon and coal tit that are faring well, while also revealing alarming declines for species such as song thrush, starlings, and house sparrows. This year’s results show some encouraging statistics in Scotland with nearly 16% more starlings seen during the Big Garden Birdwatch than 10 years ago, as well as nearly 30% more house sparrows. This can give us some hope that despite declines, it’s possible at least a partial recovery may be happening. This year’s survey also highlighted a rise in the number of sightings of brambling and fieldfares on last year’s figures.”

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 across Scotland saw close to 6,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting the birds. Starling was the most numerous species seen with an average of almost 9 per school; and was seen in 60% of all schools that took part.

Keith Morton continued “Garden birds provide a connection to nature and bring something special to the everyday lives of people across Scotland. When thousands of people take time to spend an hour watching wildlife in their garden it not only helps us build a picture of how Scotland’s garden birds are faring, but it’s a meaningful experience for those who take part.”

To highlight the crisis that nature is facing and the loss of over 40 million wild birds from the UK in just half a century, The RSPB is releasing a specially-created track of birdsong titled ‘Let Nature Sing’.  The single contains some of the most recognisable birdsongs that we used to enjoy, but that are on their way to disappearing forever.  It will be a compilation of beautiful sound recordings of birds with powerful conservation stories including the curlew, lapwing, and cuckoo.

The charity is calling on the public to download, stream and share the single (available 5th April) and help get birdsong into the charts for the first time, spreading the word that people across the country are passionate about nature’s recovery. 

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, said “When we spend time just watching or listening to nature it can have huge benefits for our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many people find there’s less and less time available to take the opportunity to enjoy our birds and their iconic songs. We want to help bring bird song back into the lives of people across Scotland with the RSPB’s upcoming single of pure bird song. We are hopeful that when reflecting on the music that is missing from our day-to-day lives, the single will inspire more people to take an active role in fighting for Scotland’s nature.”

The track is designed to help us reconnect with nature, helping people find a moment to relax and promote a feeling of tranquillity, as birdsong has been proven to aid mental health and promote feelings of wellbeing.

For a full round-up of all the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch 

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Big Garden Birdwatch