Thrushes return to gardens

Posted 13 Apr 2017

Good numbers of the Red-listed species Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush during the winter also provided a treat for Garden BirdWatchers. However, some birds did not fare as well and 2016 saw the lowest ever numbers of Greenfinches in gardens. 

Spring numbers high after mild winter

The weekly records of BTO’s Garden BirdWatch allow us to track the yearly peaks and troughs of garden wildlife, and the annual results show a mixed picture for garden birds in 2016. The year started well, with a lot of bird activity and a bumper year for Siskins, which were reported in 27% of gardens in March, compared to an average (of all previous years) of only 18%. The proceeding mild winter is likely to have helped overwinter survival and high numbers of Wrens and Coal Tits were seen in gardens early in the year.

Rain hits breeding birds

However, in early summer we were hit by outbreaks of rain, which we believe had a detrimental effect on our breeding birds. We know that many birds suffered from a poor breeding season in 2016, and preliminary results of the BTO Nest Record Scheme show that 12% fewer Blue Tits fledged the nest compared to the five year average. From the summer onwards, there were fewer sightings of some commonly seen species such as Blue Tits and Great Tits in gardens and we are interested to see whether numbers will recover in 2017.

It was also a bad year for seeing Greenfinches, a species which has been in severe decline. From October onwards counts dropped below one per garden on average for the first time. The main contributory factor in this decline is thought to be disease.

A great winter for Song Thrushes

The winter gave some unexpected treats for Garden BirdWatchers as Waxwings increased by 442% on 2015. It was also a great winter to see Song Thrushes, a Red-listed species, which were seen more during the winter just gone than they had been for the last five years, being seen in 16% of gardens in December, compared to an average of 12% in a normal December. High numbers of Mistle Thrushes, (another Red-listed species) and Redwings were also reported, which could be due to the lack of natural food resources in the wider countryside, with more thrushes coming into gardens to find berries and fallen fruit. They were joined as always by Blackbirds, which this year topped the tables, being reported in an average of 90% of gardens throughout the year.


by Simon Byland