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Trollopes Bird Notes

May 2020

Click for Trollope's April 2020 notes

Spotting birds through your kitchen window

As we are spending more time at home, Charles Trollope encourages us to join the Garden BirdWatch survey With government restrictions keeping most of us in the confines of our homes and gardens, it is a good time to look at our garden birds. The mild winter has meant garden feeders have been relatively quiet, particularly the rarer species such as Siskin, Brambling and Lesser Redpolls. However, the tit numbers have been well up this winter after a much-needed better breeding season in 2019.

It is the 25th anniversary of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch survey. Over 56,000 gardens have been registered over the years, 250 of which have completed the full 25 years, while 8.8 million weekly lists have been submitted, involving 194 million individual birds and other species.

Surprisingly, considering its recent population fall, the House Sparrow tops the chart for overall numbers with more than 18 million records. Looking at the changes, the biggest mover is the Goldfinch, which was not really classed as a garden bird 25 years ago. I used to see them in flocks feeding on thistledown, then in the early 2000s nyjer seed was introduced to the range of bird foods and flocks of up to 20 birds would soon empty my feeders. Curiously, they now seem to have moved on to sunflower hearts.

The second highest positive mover is the Woodpigeon, whose population has moved to over five million pairs. This increase has largely been attributed to changes in farming practices with the introduction of winter sowing, particularly oil seed rape, giving them a reliable food source during winter. They have also moved into more urban areas taking advantage of seed-based feeders.

The Nuthatch is the third largest improver. Nuthatches are primarily a woodland species but have moved into gardens to take advantage of peanut feeders and are clearly one species to have benefited from climate change, with their distribution range moving northwards by 50km every ten years.

On the negative side, the Song Thrush is the largest ranking casualty. It is very closely related to the Blackbird, which makes it difficult to explain its fall, although their chosen diet, with a liking for small snails, is a little different. The second largest sufferer is the Greenfinch, whose fall has been ascribed to the effects of trichomonosis, a disease of the throat and gullet; next is the Starling, which has declined quite significantly since the early 80s partly due to changing agricultural practice including the conversion of pasture to arable, as grassland harbours their favourite food source the crane fly larva. Well clear at the top of the list in terms of numbers declining comes the House Sparrow, with avian malaria a likely cause.

You do not have to be an expert to take part in Garden BirdWatch. Just visit look out your window. Happy watching.

Charles Trollope


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