Big Garden Birdwatch Results Reveal a Golden Year for the Goldfinch

The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a golden year for the goldfinch along with a number of other small birds, after a surge in sightings in gardens across the country.

Now in its 39th year, the Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden, helping RSPB Scotland build up a picture of how bird populations are doing. This year, more than 29,000 people across Scotland took part, counting an impressive 521,428 birds.

The event, held over the last weekend and Monday of January, revealed an increase in sightings of some smaller birds – goldfinches, long-tailed tits and siskins – that can usually be seen visiting gardens and outside spaces in mixed flocks. Recorded sightings of the brightly coloured goldfinch rose by 14% on 2017 figures and its bright red face was seen in more than a third of gardens. Long-tailed tit numbers increased by 16%, and siskins saw an increase of 93%, flying up six places in the rankings to number 19.

However, other small birds saw their numbers take a tumble with sightings down of chaffinch (-5%), blue tit (-6%), great tit (-7%) and coal tit (-11%).

While many of these birds will have benefitted from good conditions for their breeding season in 2017, the colder weather in the run up to the Birdwatch weekend may have altered their movements and played a part in what was seen during the counting hour.

Keith Morton, Senior Species Officer at RSPB Scotland said: “We know that many people across Scotland get a great deal of pleasure from watching the garden birds in their area and it’s fantastic to have over 29,000 of you spending an hour counting them for this year’s survey. All the results, whether you saw anything or not, are really helpful for us building up a picture of how birds are faring.
“The results show a mix in fortunes for some of our smaller feathered visitors who tend to form mixed flocks over the winter. Here in Scotland cold conditions in the weeks running up to the Birdwatch weekend may have played a part in which birds were seen the most, as birds do move around as a result of lower temperatures.
“It’s been a good year for goldfinch sightings; these are lovely birds to see with their red faces and yellow bars on their wings. A flock of them is known as a charm. Siskins, also a member of the finch family, have soared into the top 20 with a huge 93% increase in sightings, most likely due to them moving to different areas because of the colder weather.
“It’s important to remember that a fall in sightings isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm – bird sightings do fluctuate each year due to weather and food availability. All of Scotland’s top five birds in 2017 recorded a reduced number of sightings but they still remain at the top of the survey results.”

The top three birds stayed the same with house sparrow at number one for the seventh year in a row, followed by starling holding down the second spot once more, and chaffinch keeping its place at number three. Blue tit and blackbird swapped around their 2017 places to see the blue and yellow birds take the number four spot, with blackbird now rounding off the top five.

Throughout the first half of the spring term the nation’s school children took part in Big Schools’ Birdwatch. The survey of birds in school grounds saw over 5,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting the birds. Despite a drop in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings, the blackbird remained top of the Big Schools Birdwatch rankings with one being spotted in 83% of schools.

For a full round up of all the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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