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Small Birds Making A Comeback In UK After Harsh Winter

March 31, 2011

After a dramatic decline in their numbers last spring, a survey by the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird’s (RSPB) called “Big Garden Birdwatch” found small bird numbers bouncing back.

The winter of 2009 and 2010 was one of the coldest in 30 years, and experts feared the worst for small birds. However, the RSPB’s survey shows some of the species that were devastated by the long, harsh winter returning.

More than half a million people participated in counting birds in their garden for an hour on January 29 and 30. Over 70 species were recorded in 300,780 gardens.

“We expected last year’s trend to continue, and we were really concerned that this decline in small birds would continue,” says Richard Bashford, project manager of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Despite the U.K.’s coldest winter in 100 years, Bashford was surprised by the increase in small birds.

The survey saw U.K.’s smallest birds, the goldcrests, doubled in numbers. Long-tailed tits increased by a third, and coal tits by a quarter. 7,000 waxwings were recorded in almost 1,000 gardens. These birds flew in from Scandinavia in an influx known as a “waxwing winter” that only occurs every few years, reports AFP.

“We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we’d had so many reports from all over the UK. But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we’re pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds,” says Mark Eaton, a scientist at the RSPB and co-author of the survey.

A good breeding season shows the house sparrow at the top of the list in the number spotted in gardens. This is followed by the starling, the blackbird, the blue tit, the chaffinch, the wood pigeon, the great tit, the goldfinch, the robin, and rounding up the top 10 list is the collared dove.

Although house sparrows are at the top of the list, their numbers are far lower than the first Birdwatch survey that took place in 1979. Starling numbers have also fallen by three quarters since the first survey, reports AFP.

On the other hand, the blue tits, wood pigeons and collared doves are spotted in greater numbers than the original survey. In addition, the goldfinch, which was not spotted in 1979, is now eighth on the top ten list.

“It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little. But we mustn’t be complacent. Another hard winter could see numbers back down, so it’s important everyone continues to feed their garden birds,” says, Sarah Kelly, Big Garden Birdwatch coordinator.

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