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Robin ? Every garden should have oneā€¦

Results from the British Trust for Ornithology`s Garden Bird Feeding Survey, released this month, reveal that every garden in the survey had a Robin. Here we report on the changes that have taken place in our gardens since the 1970s.The BTO`s Garden Bird Feeding Survey was conceived in the late 1960s, to assess the range of birds capitalizing on supplementary foods in gardens. Since the winter of 1970/1971 observers have been charting the weekly peak counts of feeding birds countrywide. Bird food and feeders have changed markedly and now at least 60,000 tonnes of peanuts and wildbird seed are provided annually in the UK, a bird care industry worth over ?150,000,000 per year.

The top 12 garden feeding species for winter 2002/3 are, in order, Robin, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Starling, Magpie. Robin was found in EVERY garden with magpie appearing in 72%.This is the first time that a Robin has been recorded feeding in every one of the gardens surveyed, though it has vied for Top Spot with Blue Tit and Blackbird, each feeding within 98-100% of UK gardens during each of the 34 years of the BTO`s Garden Bird Feeding Survey, the longest running survey of its type in the world. The 5% increase in Great Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch show how these birds have moved out of woodlands and farmland, now relying more and more upon supplementary food provided by garden birdwatchers. The increase in the Collared Dove reflects the expansion of the species since the species first bred in the UK in 1953, just fifty years ago. The Coal Tit, with its white mohican stripe down the middle of its head, is an increasingly common visitor to our gardens. Coal Tit is one of the species which has benefited from a long run of mild winters and the conifer forest planting programme within the UK that gathered momentum in the 1970s.

The 10% decline in both House Sparrow and Starling may seem small, considering the amount of publicity there has been for their major declines in the last 25 years. However, both species are far more numerous in gardens where bird food is provided and we see that, even here, they are becoming far less easy to find. Much of the increase in the Magpie population has occurred within suburban and urban areas, as indicated by the large rise in numbers. Among regular feeders, Collared Dove (92%), Great Spotted Woodpecker (52%) and Pheasant (29% of gardens sampled), reached all-time `high` levels of feeding attendance in winter since the scheme started in 1970. Equally encouraging, were the high incidences of feeding Blackcap (25%), Goldcrest (13%), Grey Wagtail (11%), Tree Sparrow (9%) and Yellowhammer (7% of bird tables). Worryingly, House Sparrow (87%), Black-headed Gull (16%) and Reed Bunting (6% of bird tables), all with declining UK populations, dipped to equal, or fall below all-time `low` levels of feeding attendance in gardens.The Garden Bird Feeding Survey is funded as part of the Garden BirdWatch project. The BTO is always keen to hear from birdwatchers who would like to take part in their Garden Bird Surveys. For more information please write to GBW/GBFS, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU, or contact Mike Toms on 01842 750050, mobile 0795 2026181 or e-mail: mike.toms@bto.org during office hours, David Glue on 01442 891552 during office hours or 01442 822341 at other times or Graham Appleton on 01842 750050 or e-mail: graham.appleton@bto.org during office hours

4th July 2014