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Sunflower Hearts attract the Goldfinches

Posted 10 Jun 2016

An amazing 5,183 households across Britain and Ireland took part in the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Goldfinch Feeding Survey to help determine this result. As a nation we put out a staggering amount of bird food in our gardens every year, but we know little about how this affects bird populations on a national scale. New work by the BTO is attempting to answer these questions by investigating the recent increase in Goldfinch numbers, a bird that is making greater use of garden feeding stations. Over the winter of 2015/16 the public were asked to watch their garden bird feeders and report what foods Goldfinches were choosing, to help determine what it is that attracts these birds into our gardens.

With record numbers of Goldfinches being seen in gardens over the winter, it seemed like fate that this was the winter chosen to run a survey to investigate whether supplementary feeding in gardens could be behind their increasing population. An average of eight Goldfinches at a time were seen per household during the survey, highlighting the fact that this colourful bird is being reported by 70% more BTO Garden BirdWatch participants than twenty years ago.
The preliminary Goldfinch Feeding Survey results reveal that Goldfinches appear to prefer feeding on the supplementary food that we provide to the natural foods available in gardens. Sunflower hearts were overwhelmingly the preferred option, with nyger seed coming second. Natural foods were also taken, however, with teasel and thistle the favourites.

Clare Simm, the Goldfinch Feeding Survey organiser, commented, "The initial results from this survey suggested that the tastes of Goldfinches seem to have changed over time. Anecdotally, many participants commented that whereas Goldfinches used to dominate nyger feeders, they have since switched to sunflower hearts. Interestingly, as well, it appears that they have a definite preference for either one or the other, rarely visiting both in the same garden."

As the number of Goldfinches visiting gardens continues to grow, these findings will inform further BTO research into whether their use of bird foods is driving the increase in their national populations. The new information gathered in this survey will be extremely important in helping us discover the answer, when combined with long-term data from the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch project.  

by Simon Byland