House sparrows still No.1 in Northern Ireland in record-breaking Big Garden Birdwatch

Brian Campbell

Thursday 8 April 2021

• More sightings of blackbirds, blue tits and great tits in Northern Ireland gardens, while goldfinches drop down to eighth spot

The humble house sparrow has made it to top spot in the Big Garden Birdwatch survey in Northern Ireland for the fourth year in a row.

Now in its 42nd year, the Big Garden Birdwatch takes place each year at the end of January and gives people of all ages the chance to count the number of birds that visit their garden, helping the RSPB build up a picture of how they are doing.

The number of nature lovers who took part in the Birdwatch in Northern Ireland rose by a third to 18,500 this year, spotting more than 350,000 birds, after a year of lockdown restrictions saw people turn to nature for comfort.

Starlings (who were last perched in the number one spot in 2017), were the second most spotted birds across NI, while blackbirds flew up three places to third, blue tits were up one place to fourth and chaffinch dropped a spot to fifth. Great tits soared three places to sixth place in Northern Ireland, goldfinches didn’t have a charmed year as they dropped from third to eighth, while coal tits regained their place in the top 10, nudging last year’s No.10 birds – collared doves – down to 12th place.

The county results for 2021 show that starlings were the most seen birds in Antrim, Armagh and Down, yet house sparrows held on to top spot in Derry/Londonderry and Tyrone, and chaffinches were No.1 in Fermanagh.

Hopes had been high for a bumper participation in Big Garden Birdwatch this year after results from a YouGov survey revealed the pandemic is making the public more aware of nature in their area, with 57% of people surveyed in NI saying the pandemic made them more aware of nature around them and 58% said watching the birds and hearing their song added to their enjoyment of life.

Katie Gibb, RSPB NI Conservation Officer, said: “It’s fantastic to see the huge rise in the number of people who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch across Northern Ireland this year and the enthusiasm that everyone has shown towards it. The lockdowns seem to have either started or reignited a love of nature for many people, right on their doorsteps.

“It’s another good year for house sparrows and it’s nice to see the ever-popular blackbirds up into the top three now. Some birds have shown declines, though, so this survey is really important as it lets us see how our garden birds are faring. So we would like to say thank you to everyone who took part.”

RSPB NI is a conservation charity that works to inspire everyone to give nature a home and to secure a healthy environment for wildlife.

Across the UK as a whole, more than a million people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year, counting 17 million birds, with house sparrows the most spotted garden bird. Sixteen out of the top 20 bird species showed declines in average counts compared to last year. Robins, blackbirds, and song thrushes, though, all saw an increase on 2020. 

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: Thursday 9 December 2021

Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Topic: Birds Topic: Campaigns Topic: Conservation Topic: Blackbird Topic: Great tit Topic: House sparrow Topic: Starling