Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and bramblings, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.
“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”
There was also good news for robins, which climbed from number eight in 2016 to number seven this year in the rankings in Cheshire. Blackbirds were another climber, moving from number three to number two and becoming the county’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in 95% of Cheshire gardens.
The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-9%) and great tits (-8%) on last year’s figures for Cheshire. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”
This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.
Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. 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 some declines.”
The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children, including 971 across Cheshire, spend an hour in nature counting birds. House sparrow was the most common playground visitor in Cheshire with an average of eight per school. The top three in the county was rounded off by blackbird and woodpigeon.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.
For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – rspb.org.uk/birdwatch