Blue tits are on the move in Greater Manchester

Messenger Newspapers: A blue tit A blue tit

ALMOST half a million people who took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch have discovered some interesting changes among our most popular garden birds, with some species that benefit from a bit of extra help creeping up the rankings.

In Greater Manchester, there were changes in the top 10 as blue tits moved up from fourth to second, while the previous occupier of the second spot, blackbirds, dropped to number three.

Starlings also fell from third place to fourth, with an average of just under two recorded per garden, as house sparrows remained at the top of the table.

Goldfinches climbed an impressive 12 places to take seventh position this year and scientists believe that the increase in people providing food, such as nyjer seed and sunflower hearts in gardens, may have contributed to their steady rise.

Scientists also believe that the weather has played a role in the ups and downs in this year’s top 10 as many of the birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions. Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods like worms and insects in the countryside.

Overall numbers of species such as blackbirds and fieldfares may appear to have dropped in our gardens since last year, but in many cases this is not because these populations are in decline but because these species don’t need to come into our gardens during mild winters due to there being plenty of natural food available in the wider countryside.

However the continuing declines of some species are of greater concern. Numbers of starlings and song thrushes have dropped by 13 and 90 per cent respectively in Greater Manchester. Both species are on the UK ‘red list’ meaning they are of the highest conservation concern.

There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as the declines appear to have slowed, and it remains the most commonly seen bird in our gardens.

In Greater Manchester, the house sparrow held onto first position, with an average of three recorded per garden – a 2.2 per cent increase on last year. However, the bird remains on the red list as we have still lost 62 per cent nationally since 1979.

Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, said: “2014 was always going to be an interesting Big Garden Birdwatch as the winter has been so mild and we wondered if it would have a significant impact on garden birds.

“They were out and about in the wider countryside finding natural food instead of taking up our hospitality.

“The good news is that this may mean we have more birds in our gardens in the coming breeding season because more survived the mild winter. It is a great time to give nature a home by putting up a nesting box and supplementary feeding.”

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “Many garden birds rely on us humans for help. During winter, birds need extra food and water, and at other times of the year, as well as sustenance, a safe place to shelter and make their home can really give them a boost.

“Two of the species that moved up the rankings this year, blue tits and goldfinches, are adaptable, friendly garden birds and great examples of birds that can flourish with our help. If we put up a nestbox, leave out some food or let our gardens grow a bit wild, they’ll be among the first to take advantage.”

More than 11,000 people in Greater Manchester took part in the Birdwatch survey in January, which is the largest of its kind in the world.

This year, for the first time, participants were also asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens. The RSPB asked whether people ever see deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads in their gardens, to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home. This information will be analysed and results will be revealed next month.

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch is part of the Big Garden Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools has revealed that the blackbird is the most common playground visitor for the sixth year in a row.

Of those schools that took part in the survey, 85% saw blackbirds, with an average of five birds seen per school, slightly down on 2013 figures.

Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s latest campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it is planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species.

The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature.

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