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Despite their “startling” long-term declines, this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch has revealed that House Sparrows have held on to the top spot for an incredible 20 years running. Meanwhile, long term trends in the number of Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches recorded in gardens over the past decade alone also highlight the fragility of our natural world.
Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and gives the RSPB insights into how some of our most common garden birds are faring. This year, the findings come as Sir David Attenborough says “we must act now” to Save Our Wild Isles; joining forces with the National Trust, WWF and RSPB to sound an urgent SOS for nature.
Now in its 44th year, RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden, balcony or local park, helping the RSPB to get a snapshot of how they are doing. This year over half a million people across the UK took part, counting more than 9 million birds.
House Sparrows are garden favourites, frequenting feeders, nestboxes and hedges especially while raising their young in the springtime. While nearly 1.5 million may have been spotted across the January weekend, House Sparrows have sadly suffered severe declines. In fact, the number spotted in gardens across the UK has dropped by nearly 60% since the survey first began, and nearly 22 million House Sparrows have been lost from the UK since 1966.
The RSPB’s Chief Executive, Beccy Speight said: “With so many people sending in their sightings over the weekend from across the UK, Big Garden Birdwatch really helps paint a picture of how our garden birds are faring.
While we celebrate the 20 year stint of the House Sparrow at number one, the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the startling declines of some of our once common birds. They no longer have the abundance across the UK that they used to have. We are in a nature and climate emergency and we’ve lost 38 million birds from our skies in the last 50 years.”
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, which are down 80% compared to the first Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979. This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979 but by 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded 44 years ago. The Song Thrush scraped in at number 20 in the rankings this year, seen in just 9% of gardens.
This year’s results have also highlighted the vulnerabilities of garden birds, from weather changes to disease. The Long-tailed Tit, a much-loved species, rose five positions in the rankings this year, with numbers 39% higher than in 2022. However, Long-tailed Tits are susceptible to harsh weather conditions, with the numbers recorded fluctuating since the Big Garden Birdwatch began, highlighting the fragility of some of our smaller garden birds.
Meanwhile, Greenfinches and Chaffinches have been badly affected by a disease known as Trichomonosis. As a result, the UK Chaffinch population has declined by 34% over the last decade, while Greenfinches have declined by 65% over the same time frame.
Trichomonosis can be spread by contaminated food and drinking water and garden owners can help by ensuring that feeders, bird tables and bird baths are moved around to stop food waste building up, regularly cleaning with a mild disinfectant and only filling up feeders with enough food to last up to two days. If you see sick birds where you are feeding, temporarily stop feeding for at least two weeks and leave bird baths dry.
In addition to the nationwide Big Garden Birdwatch, over the first half of spring term, over 66,000 children and their teachers took part in the sister event – the Big Schools Birdwatch. The results revealed that Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and House Sparrows were the top 3 birds spotted in school grounds as thousands of children were encouraged to connect with and learn more about nature.
Beccy added: “With such a rallying call from Sir David Attenborough, and with spring seeing the nature on our doorsteps burst info life, we’re hopeful that more and more people will feel empowered to help save our wild isles. Connecting with nature doesn’t have to stop with the Big Garden Birdwatch; everyone can experience the joy of giving nature a helping hand by going wild once a week.
From planting wildflowers in a window box to volunteering for local nature projects, why not join us for the Wild Weekender - an inspiring online event packed full of top tips, tricks and ideas - big and small - to help get you started in taking action for nature?”
The Wild Weekender takes place from 28 April to 1 May, bringing people together across the country to sow, grow, and create thriving habitats for the nature on our doorsteps. Whether it’s a garden, a balcony, or an unloved community space, any outdoor area can become a flourishing haven for wildlife.
Join us on YouTube for a Wild Weekender livestream on the morning of Saturday 29th April, with special guests and live demonstrations to help you create a place you can call #MyWildSpace. Visit: www.saveourwildisles.org.uk/at-home/my-wild-space