What a difference a week makes: birds flock into gardens as snowy weather takes hold

by Holly Ellyatt

credit: Jill Pakenham/BTO

Huge numbers of birds are winging into gardens as a result of the current cold snap, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has said.

Less than two weeks ago, the RSPB warned Big Garden Birdwatch participants that the mild weather was encouraging birds to stay in the countryside. But since the arrival of snow and sub-zero temperatures, birds such as fieldfares and redwings have made a beeline for gardens where food is easier to find.

Last week, more than five times as many fieldfares and more than twice as many redwings were spotted in gardens compared with the week before, according to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch survey, in which 14,500 people across the country count the birds in their gardens throughout the year.

Meanwhile, numbers of pied wagtails (up 92%), song thrushes (up 72%) and bramblings (up 52%) also showed big increases.

Dr Tim Harrison of the BTO Garden BirdWatch, says the results show how sensitive the bird population is to the onset of severe winter weather.

“The results show how fluid our garden bird communities are throughout the year. The recent freezing conditions have seen big movements of birds into gardens as feeding conditions in the wider countryside have become tough.”

“The thrush family is a great example as much of their diet consists of soil-dwelling invertebrates, but with these foods now harder to find, alternatives such as fruit, mealworms and seeds provided by generous householders can be a lifeline.”

For the BTO, the public’s involvement in keeping a check on the health of the bird population throughout each season is vital. Dr Harrison says that gardeners can also help by providing some food outdoors.

“With such dramatic changes, it is important for householders to keep an eye out for garden birds all year round. The survival of these birds is on a knife-edge but there is much that householders can do to help. Peanuts, finely-grated cheese and beef suet can provide a calorific hit; windfall or fresh fruit will help sustain thrushes and sunflower hearts are a particular favourite with finches.”

Dr Harrison hopes that more gardeners will help the BTO by counting the visitors to their gardens, and adds, “You can do this whatever the weather, through BTO Garden BirdWatch.”


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