The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has reported a decline in the number of wild birds visiting UK gardens, with greenfinches, starlings and sparrows seeing the most significant drop. This comes as the RSPB launches its annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s largest wildlife citizen science project. The data shows that bird sightings have continued to decrease, with four fewer birds per hour visiting gardens compared to two decades ago.
However, some species such as goldfinches, woodpigeons and parakeets are thriving. The RSPB’s CEO, Beccy Speight, has highlighted that climate change is disrupting seasonal patterns, affecting bird populations. Early springs can lead to birds breeding sooner and their offspring facing sudden temperature changes or food shortages.
The Big Garden Birdwatch survey takes place on the last weekend of January each year, with up to half a million people participating. The RSPB encourages as many people as possible to join in the upcoming survey. While the survey focuses on birds living near human populations, it reflects broader trends shown by other systematic surveys.
A survey by the British Trust for Ornithology last year revealed that almost half of all bird species are in decline, with the UK’s wild bird population decreasing by 72 million since 1970. Sparrows, starlings and greenfinches have seen the most dramatic declines. However, there has been a slight increase in sparrows and greenfinches since 2000.
Starlings have not been so lucky, with an over 80% drop in numbers over the last four and a half decades due to loss of pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and lack of food and nesting sites. Greenfinches have also suffered from trichomonosis, a disease carried by parasites on dirty birdfeeders.
On a positive note, goldfinches have risen in rankings from not being in the top 15 in 1979 to seventh place now, benefiting from the increase in birdfeeders. Woodpigeons have also seen a tenfold increase in sightings, and long-tailed tits have become more common due to climate change making UK conditions more favourable.
Birdwatchers can help wild birds by providing food, plant cover, and advocating for wider action to protect the natural world.