More than 17,000 people across Northern Ireland counted almost 130,000 birds during a huge citizen science initiative, new results have revealed.
The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch has been running for 38 years and is the world's largest garden wildlife survey. Back in January, nature enthusiasts up and down the country spent one hour recording what they saw in their garden or local green space to help build up a picture of how our feathered friends are faring.
Overall in Northern Ireland, starlings retained their perch as the most commonly seen bird, closely followed by house sparrows. Chaffinches, blue tits and blackbirds completed the top five.
Robins held firm at number eight after being spotted in 94% of gardens here and it was good news too for the adorable long-tailed tits - up two places to number 17. These distinctive-looking birds are nest-building experts, creating elastic structures that can expand to accommodate their growing chicks. They achieve this by delicately weaving spider webs into a huge ball of feathers, moss and lichen.
Meanwhile the tiny wren snuck into the NI top 20, up one place on last year. Surprisingly, when their size is taken into account, the wren's song is ten times as powerful as a crowing cockerel!
The colourful greenfinch swooped in at number 19, but has fallen from the number six position within a decade. This could be due to the impact of a disease called trichomoniasis, which worst affects members of the finch family. The disease stops birds being able to feed properly and is fatal. However it can be avoided by practicing good hygiene at feeding stations.
Across the UK there was a surge in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These beautiful birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every few years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Waxwings are rarely reported in NI, but this year they were seen in six gardens during the Big Garden Birdwatch!
Along with waxwings, there was also a jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds as sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions. For example there were around 15 times more redwings seen in NI compared to 2016.
As part of Big Garden Birdwatch, 111 schools across NI took part in the Big Schools' Birdwatch and it was all change in the pecking order from last year! Starlings swooped into top spot, pipping blackbirds to the post. Jackdaws took third place (fifth last year), followed by house sparrows (up from number six) and black headed gulls (up from eight position).
Playground highlights included goldcrests in Belfast, a rare glaucous gull in County Down, a buzzard in Antrim, redwings in County Tyrone and treecreepers in Armagh and Fermanagh!
Joanne Sherwood, RSPB NI Director, commented: "The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. To have so many people connecting with this huge citizen science initiative is amazing and the information gathered will really help create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing."
She added: "Our gardens and school grounds are a valuable space for birds, creating the food, water and a safe place to shelter they need throughout the year. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing declines. For top tips and easy ideas on how you can give nature a home where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/plan."