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Garden Bird Feeding Survey

Thirty-three years of garden bird recording

Britain`s longest running study of the changing fortunes of garden bird populations is celebrating a third of a century of dedicated recording. Since its launch, in 1970, the British Trust for Ornithology`s Garden Bird Feeding Survey has alerted conservationists to the decline of once familiar species like House Sparrow, Starling and Song Thrush, and has charted increasing populations of newcomers like the Collared Dove.

Gardens are important for many bird species during winter, when food is in short supply in other habitats and the temperatures fall below freezing. Many birds will turn to food put out by garden birdwatchers during winter and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has been able to monitor this behaviour through their Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS). Because the GBFS has been running since 1970, making it the longest-running survey of garden bird populations in Britain, it has been able to chart the way in which bird populations have responded to changes in the wider countryside (such as agricultural intensification and habitat loss), to the introduction of new bird foods and methods of feeding, and to the effects of global climate change on the severity of our winter weather.Every week, throughout the winter, dedicated volunteers record the range and numbers of birds visiting their gardens. [Some 300 people take part in the Garden Bird Feeding Survey and record the birds using their gardens from week to week between October and March.] From these records, the BTO is able to derive a measure of garden use for each species, information that can be used by conservation bodies and Government to assess the conservation status of different species. It is GBFS results that highlighted the sudden decline in House Sparrow populations in the mid-1980s, to which conservationists have responded through targeted research. The results of the survey also reveal the dramatic responses of bird populations to severe winter weather, with the use of gardens by many species jumping markedly during cold spells.David Glue, who organises the GBFS, can be justifiably proud of the project and the volunteer recorders who have, through their efforts, enabled conservationists to tackle issues relating to garden birds. As he notes Long-running surveys, like GBFS, are tremendously important. By using a standard methodology it is possible to build up a very accurate picture of how bird populations may change over years or, in this case, decades, and indeed from week to week, and this information is vital for successful conservation work.

Garden birdwatchers can discover which birds are likely to be found in their gardens by visiting http://www.postcodebirds.bto.org and entering their postcode. The BTO runs a range of bird surveys in different habitats. For more information on BTO survey work in gardens, together with an information sheet giving advice on feeding and attracting garden birds, please write to GBFS Enquiry Pack, BTO, FREEPOST, Norfolk, IP24 2BR or telephone 01842-750050. Contact: David Glue (GBFS Organiser) 01442-891552 (during office hours) or 01442-822341 outside office hours. Mike Toms (Garden BirdWatch Organiser) 01842-750050 (office) 07952-026181 (mobile) mike.toms@bto.org

4th July 2014