World’s biggest wildlife citizen survey maps changing fortunes of Britain’s bird populations
Fri 25 Jan 2019 06.00 GMT
The garden of 1979 was filled with glossy gangs of starlings, the atonal chirp of sparrows and the tap-tap of song thrushes breaking open snail shells.
In 2019, you’re more likely to hear the screech of a ring-necked parakeet, the “coo” of a collared dove or the “woo” of a woodpigeon.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is marking its 40th year this weekend, with half a million people expected to spend an hour counting the birds in their garden or local green space in what is the world’s biggest wildlife citizen science project.
The RSPB survey reveals sharp vicissitudes of fortune for our garden visitors over the years. Starlings have fallen by 80%, song thrushes by 75% and house sparrows by 57%. Even ubiquitous garden heroes the robin (-31%) and blackbird (-41%) have become more scarce.
But gardens have filled with different sights and songs, with woodpigeons bustling in to view, rising by 950%. Collared doves are up 307% and magpies – viewed with suspicion by many small-bird lovers – have risen by 173%.
Some small songbirds are thriving, however: coal tit numbers are up by 263%, wrens by 88% and there are regular top ten appearances by long-tailed tits and goldfinches, the latter thought to be lured by nyjer seeds put in bird feeders.
The 130 million bird sighting records have charted the rise of ring-necked parakeets across London and the south-east, and the resurgence of the reintroduced red kite – people are allowed to record this big bird of prey if it is seen flying over their garden rather than in it.