Big Garden Birdwatch results show house sparrows stay perched at No.1 in Northern Ireland gardens

Brian Campbell

Friday 5 April 2019

Male house sparrow, Oronsay RSPB reserve

  • House sparrows remain at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings in NI and across the UK, but for many species fewer birds were recorded than in 2018
  • Almost half a million people across the UK (including almost 14,000 in NI) spent an hour watching the birds that visit their garden or outdoor space as part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, counting more than 7.5 million birds in total
  • Northern Ireland sightings included great spotted woodpeckers, yellowhammers, sparrowhawks, goldcrests and fieldfares

The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a mixed picture for the UK’s garden birdlife, with 15 of the top 20 species returning fewer sightings in 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, almost half a million people across the UK took part, counting an impressive 7.5 million birds - with almost 14,000 people in Northern Ireland counting just under 120,000 birds.

There was one new entry in the top 10 in Northern Ireland, with coal tits replacing collared doves at No.10 in the list. The top five stayed unchanged from last year, with house sparrows followed by starlings, chaffinches, goldfinches and blue tits. House sparrows were also the county leaders in Antrim, Down and Derry/Londonderry, while starlings (the NI number one in 2017) were the most-spotted birds in Armagh and Tyrone and the chaffinch was chief in Fermanagh. Some of the less common birds to be spotted across NI included great spotted woodpeckers, yellowhammers, sparrowhawks, goldcrests and fieldfares.

The Birdwatch, held over the last weekend in January, revealed that there was a decrease in sightings of wrens and long-tailed tits, two of the smallest species to visit our gardens. Long-tailed tits decreased by 28% and wrens by 17% in 2019 after being counted in particularly large numbers in 2018. 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. But it’s too early to say if this is a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Over its long lifetime, the survey has shown the increasing good fortunes of birds including goldfinches and wood pigeons and the alarming declines of house sparrows and starlings. But there appears to be good news for one of these birds. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 56% (1979–2019), in the most recent decade (2009-2019) numbers appear to have increased by 10%. This gives us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening. This year’s survey also highlighted a rise in the number of sightings of redwings and fieldfares on last year’s figures.”

House sparrows remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings at the most commonly seen garden birds with more than 1.2 million recorded sightings throughout the weekend. Schoolchildren also took part in the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch, with almost 7,000 children taking part in 103 schools across Northern Ireland. The blackbird was the most numerous species seen with an average of eight per school. Starlings and black-headed gulls were second and third on the NI list.

RSPB NI Director Joanne Sherwood said: “It’s fantastic to see that house sparrows are the number one bird spotted here and to find out that they’re in 71% of gardens in Northern Ireland. Our garden birds should be a part of our everyday life. For many people they provide our only connection to the natural world and bring enormous joy.”

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 is a compilation of beautiful recordings of birds with powerful conservation stories including cuckoos, curlews and cranes. The charity is calling on the public to download, stream and share the single (available from Friday 5 April) and help get birdsong into the charts for the first time, spreading the word that people across the UK are passionate about nature’s recovery. 

Anne-Marie McDevitt, RSPB NI Head of Conservation, added: “Birdsong is a beautiful and incredible part of our everyday lives, but fewer people have the time or opportunity to enjoy it. The time we spend in nature, just watching and listening, can have huge benefits to our wellbeing. The RSPB wants to help more people reconnect with nature and is bringing birdsong back into people’s busy lives by releasing a track of pure birdsong. We hope to inspire others to take part in the recovery by understanding what we have lost. Without nature our lives are less complete.”

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 

Last Updated: Friday 5 April 2019

Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Topic: Birds Topic: Northern Ireland Topic: Big Garden Birdwatch