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Britain’s Smallest Bird


sanctuary in garden

A cold spell in late winter 2016-17 had birds flocking to garden feeders, including higher counts of Britain’s smallest bird, the Goldcrest, according to British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS).

Goldcrest ©John Harding

Winter 2016-17 was generally mild and it was relatively quiet on garden feeders, but results from the GBFS found that more birds were making use of the supplementary food we put out during a cold snap in late January, early February. One of the species coming to our feeders in the colder weather was the tiny Goldcrest. In fact, Garden BirdWatchers have recorded high numbers of Goldcrest in gardens over the last two winters, with counts in February 2017 35% higher than the average for the previous five years. Are we in store for another winter of Goldcrest sightings? So far it looks promising with high preliminary counts for September. Goldcrest numbers are severely affected by low winter temperatures, but the predominately mild winter weather of recent years might have helped to boost numbers.

Goldcrest is an infrequent garden visitor and only seen in 6% of gardens (average 1995-2017) during February/March, which is the peak time for garden sightings. This tiny bird, which weighs a mere 5-6g, favours conifer woodland and only tends to visit gardens in times of cold weather when natural food sources are harder to find. Being so small means that they expend a lot of energy keeping warm, so suet-based products provided at garden feeding stations can provide a lifeline.

Claire Boothby, BTO Garden BirdWatch, said, “It is interesting to see that our gardens are providing a sanctuary for Goldcrests when times are tough. Without the weekly observations of our Garden BirdWatchers we wouldn’t know this. Putting bird food out in our gardens really can make the difference between life and death.

Will it be a busy year on feeders this winter? We need your help to find out, and to feed into our long-term data and research on garden birds and other wildlife. Find out how to make your garden count by requesting a free magazine and information on feeding garden birds from BTO’s Supporter Team: email us at: gbw@bto.org, visit our website at HERE, or call us on 01842 750050 (Mon-Thurs 9am-5:30pm, Fri 9am-5pm).

Paul Stancliffe - BTO

10th October 2017