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Small birds suffered in Welsh winter weather

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 09:57 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

Hi everyone. Gull's away for a few days so I'll be taking the reins from him until he returns on Thursday. I'm James and I've been working behind the scenes on BBC Wales Nature for the last few years.

The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch took place on the last weekend of January and over 27,000 people in Wales took part. The elongated spell of cold weather Wales endured has meant a reduction in the number of small-bodied birds seen in over 14,500 gardens across the country.

Species such as the long-tailed tit, the coal tit and the goldcrest were the worst affected, with average numbers of all three falling significantly since last year's survey.


Long-tailed tit by Andrew Davies

The cold snap also meant that species that normally don't venture into urban areas were drawn into our gardens in search of food. Fieldfares, redwings, bullfinches and yellowhammers were among the species which "visit our gardens for food when they can't find enough in their usual haunts" according to RSPB Cymru's Dana Thomas.

"We were particularly concerned for small birds over the winter, asking people to make sure that they kept feeders topped up and supplied fresh water to help them." she says. "These results highlight the importance of feeding and gardening for wildlife, especially during prolonged cold periods."

Continuing their steady decline in numbers over the years were house sparrows and blue tits.

One species, however, bucked the trend. Blackcaps were up in numbers, perhaps illustrating a changing behaviour and willingness to visit garden feeders, according to Thomas.


  • Comment number 1.

    Chaffinches down 27%, Starlings down 79%, Blackbirds down 18%, House Sparrows down 62% since 1979! I wonder what the perecentage increase for Birds of Prey is since 1979? It doesn't take a genius to work out where these birds are going. 26,000 nesting pairs of Sparrowhawks alone, need 52,000 songbirds a day that is close to 19 million a year! (Thats not even including the Peregrines, Goshawks and other birds of Prey. This is biggest reason these poor songbirds are being decimated. Several articles have appeared recently in National newspapers highlighting this and now the Garden Watch is providing the proof! We need to start opening our eyes otherwise the days of looking out of window at seeing blue tits, chaffinches and wrens will sadly be over!

  • Comment number 2.

    I have setup a Facebook group aimed at highlighting the damage these birds are having on the song bird population. The link to the site is www.Rasbull-lofts.co.uk and appears at the bottom of the main page! SAVE OUR SONGBIRDS!

  • Comment number 3.

    This is the sort of response I would normally expect to see from those who perceive birds of prey as a threat to their hobby and/or livelihood and call for a cull. It was not therefore a surprise to find that the site quoted by Richard is owned by a manufacturer of lofts and is designed to appeal to pigeon fanciers.

    I am always wary of accepting statistics provided by those with a vested interest but even if his figure of 52,000 birds a day required by sparrowhawks is correct I assume, because of his use of the word "nesting" that this applies only during the time when there are fast growing young to feed and his extrapolation of this to 19m a year is highly questionable.

    In fact, because nature achieves a balance, the presence of a thriving population of predators is indicative of satisfactory numbers of prey species. If there was a crisis in the songbird population then the number of sparrowhawks would plummet naturally.

    As a rule predators play a vital part in keeping other species healthy. A large proportion of the prey they take are weak and ill birds, keeping the gene pool strong and reducing the spread of disease.

    Loss of habitat is far more significant in the fall in numbers of some birds than predation could ever be.

    Richard's introduction of goshawks (fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the UK) and peregrines (fewer than 1500 pairs) makes me highly suspicious that his campaign to save songbirds is a screen behind which to hide his desire to cull peregrine falcons which do take some (very valuable) racing pigeons.

  • Comment number 4.

    ps I've had another look at his site. He doesn't manufacture lofts but appears to be in the business of breeding and racing pigeons. Sorry!

  • Comment number 5.

    I have got to say - this winter I was seriously worried for the redwings and fieldfares. I saw so many near the roadsides as they were the places where the water wasnt frozen - yet so many getting killed by the cars. It was heartbreaking. I also had many more bought to me this year - injured or in shock or just so depleted of strength and cold that all they needed was a couple of days of warmth and food to help build their strength back up. There was one that I found just sat in the middle of the road. In shock but alive. So I stopped my car (and all the traffic on this busy road) and got out and got the poor little thing.
    I also worried for the very small birds like the wrens as the very cold weather could seriously deplete these tiny little ones.

  • Comment number 6.

    to Pen-y-bont Mike
    Yes I have had an email from this person. asking me to join the facebook group - it seems there is an email asking for the cull of birds of prey. These birds help to keep populations right - pigeon fanciers may not like them but then again a lot of people dont like pigeons and we have many many more of those than of birds of prey. It is wonderful to see these majestic birds in larger numbers - I regularly see buzzards, red kites, peregrines and sparrowhawks and it is wonderful. Natures balance.

  • Comment number 7.

    You won't be surprised to hear that I didn't get an invite!

    I wouldn't worry too much about one or even two years bad weather reducing the populations of most of the species of small birds. They are almost invariably short lived species and as a consequence have large broods. When the weather returns to normal the reduction in competition for food, nesting sites etc. enables them to raise more young to maturity and they are capable of regenerating populations quite quickly.

    I agree that all of our birds of prey are a magnificent sight and I love to see them.


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