Snow takes its toll on Welsh bird population

Reporter:

Mark Lingard

MORE than 27,000 people in Wales took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

Seventy-three species were recorded in 14,500 gardens across Wales over the weekend of January 30 and 31.

The results, which have just been released, have helped the charity get an idea of just how the bad weather at the start of the year affected bird populations.

As predicted, small-bodied birds like the long-tailed tit, coat tit and goldcrest were the worst affected with average numbers of all three species dropping significantly since the 2009 survey.

Smaller birds like the long tailed tit are particularly susceptible to the cold, having to eat almost continuously to stay alive. Long-tailed tits flew into the top 10 for the first time last year, suggesting they were getting used to feeding on seeds and peanuts in hanging feeders and on bird tables.

The weather was also responsible for many more sightings of countryside birds like fieldfares, redwings, bullfinches and yellowhammers in gardens. More usually found in fields and farmland trees and hedgerows, these birds visit our gardens for food when they can’t find enough in their usual haunts.

As well as redwings and fieldfares, other members of the thrush family, including song thrush, mistle thrush and blackbird, were seen in much higher numbers this year also looking for food.

Big Garden Birdwatch is the biggest wildlife survey in the world and provides the RSPB with a fantastic snapshot of how garden birds are faring.

Dana Thomas from RSPB Cymru said “We were particularly concerned for small birds over the winter, asking people to make sure they kept feeders topped up and supplied fresh water to help them. These results highlight the importance of feeding and gardening for wildlife, especially during prolonged cold periods.”

An unusually high number of blackcaps were also seen. In this harsher winter we might have expected their numbers to decline but more blackcaps than usual were discovered on bird tables.

“Just like the long tailed tit, this suggests that blackcaps are adapting their feeding behaviour to take advantage of bird tables and feeders, and therefore becoming more visible in gardens.

Some of Wales’ most familiar species continue to suffer declines. In just the last five years, house sparrows have declined by 10.5% and blue tits by 6.9%.

The house sparrow retained its top spot for the seventh year running with an average of 4.92 seen per garden.

The blackbird stayed at fifth spot with an average of 3.42 per garden, the starling also stayed at third spot with 4.55 seen per garden.

See full story in the Leader

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