Blizzard of birds hits frozen gardens

Profile photo of surfbirds

Published by on February 7, 2012 courtesy of BTO, surfbirds archive

Huge numbers of birds have swept into gardens over the last few days, latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch reveal.

Fieldfares and Redwings, both migrant thrushes to our shores, have led the charge. Compared with the preceding week – when thousands of people took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – over five times as many Fieldfares have recently been seen in gardens, and over twice as many Redwings.

Fieldfare © Neil Triggs, from the surfbirds galleries. Over five times as many Fieldfare have
recently been seen in gardens.

The results, collected by participants in the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey, show that numbers of other thrushes, such as Song Thrush (up 72%), Mistle Thrush (up 49%), have also increased hugely over the past week. Numbers of the familiar Blackbird are up by a third.

Increase since RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (%)
+ 441
+ 137
Pied Wagtail
+ 92
Song Thrush
+ 72
+ 72
+ 52
Mistle Thrush
+ 49
+ 32
+ 32
+ 31

Gardens have been inundated across the UK, even where snow has not settled. In south west England, for instance, where conditions are typically milder than elsewhere, numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare have rocketed. Here and in Wales, gardens are likely to be providing a refuge for many birds displaced from further north and east.

The exciting activity, featuring notable increases of Pied Wagtail, Woodpigeon, Brambling, Wren and Jay (see table), shows just how much things can change in a week.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “Many householders will be really disappointed that this huge influx of birds has come a week too late for their RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch count. Thankfully, however, people can make their garden count all year round through BTO Garden BirdWatch.”

Data collected by BTO volunteers show how sensitive our resident bird populations are to severe winter weather. Last winter’s cold snap saw numbers of Robins and Wrens drop by a third, Song Thrushes by a quarter and Dunnocks by a fifth, compared with the five-year average. Fortunately, many of these losses were offset by a bumper breeding season during 2011 but there are now lots of inexperienced birds out there feeling the cold.

He continued: “The survival of these birds is on a knife-edge but there is much that householders can do to help. Peanuts, finely grated cheese and beef suet can provide a calorific hit; windfall or fresh fruit will help sustain thrushes, and sunflower hearts are a particular favourite with finches.”

He concluded: “The other important way to help is by counting your visitors. You can do this whatever the weather through BTO Garden BirdWatch.”

For a free BTO Garden BirdWatch enquiry pack, email, tel. 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

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