In excess of 24,000 people across Wales joined in the world's largest garden wildlife survey turning their eyes to their gardens to watch and count nearly 490,000 birds during the 37th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch - witnessing some exciting and interesting changes among our most popular feathered friends.
The tiny long-tailed tit has flown into the Big Garden Birdwatch top 10 - the first time in eight years - after the average number seen visiting gardens across Wales increased this year by 46 per cent. The highly sociable species is likely to have benefitted from the mild months leading up to January's Birdwatch, making an appearance in over a quarter of participants' gardens.
RSPB experts are linking the increase in sightings of long-tailed tits, as well as other smaller gardens birds such as coal tit, to the mild weather in the months leading up to the 2016 Birdwatch. Small, insect-eating birds like long- tailed tits are particularly susceptible to the cold as the food they rely on is hard to come by in frosts and snow so milder conditions are likely to have contributed to a higher survival rate.
The house sparrow remained the most spotted garden bird in Wales seen in nearly three quarters of participants' gardens. The blue tit and starling complete the top three.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: "It's been another fantastic year for the Big Garden Birdwatch in Wales which has provided us with valuable data to help build a better picture of how our garden birds are doing. "The increase in numbers of sightings of smaller garden birds highlights the importance of a well stocked bird feeder for some species. Long-tailed tits only started using garden feeders in recent years, and now more people are spotting them in their gardens as this behaviour develops. Since 2006 the average number of long-tailed tits seen in gardens across Wales has increased by 36 per cent, while goldfinch numbers have gone up by 27 per cent." The weather can have varied effects on different groups of birds in terms of behaviour and habitats used. The increase in long-tailed tit sightings, along with other smaller garden birds, goes to show that in the absence of very cold weather these species can survive the winter months in much greater numbers. The warmer temperatures have made it easier to find food, like insects, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.
Despite this boost in numbers many other of our garden favourites are struggling. Sightings of well known species such as starlings and song thrushes have experienced another drop during the Big Garden Birdwatch this year. This decline continues a trend that has seen the number of both species visiting gardens decline by 81 and 89 per cent retrospectively since the first Birdwatch in 1979.
Eleri Wynne, RSPB Cymru Communications Officer, added: "A lot of our favourite garden birds are struggling and are in desperate need of our help. Gardens or outdoor spaces are an invaluable resource for many species - they can provide a safe habitat and enough food and water to survive - which are likely to have a significant effect on their populations."
The same trends have been spotted in the parallel event, Big Schools' Birdwatch, which continued to break records with more schools and children taking part than ever before. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools had almost 100,000 school child spending an hour in nature counting birds with more than 2,000 participants in Wales. The blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the eighth year in a row. The top three was rounded off by house sparrow and starling.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools' Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB's Giving Nature a Home 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 gardens or outdoor space - whether it's putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.