Science & Environment

BTO survey suggests goldfinches visiting more gardens

A record number of goldfinches visited gardens in the UK and Ireland in 2011, a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggests.

The goldfinch is now the 10th most likely bird to be spotted in gardens; in 1995 it was the 20th most common.

The boost in these colourful birds is linked to an increase in bird feeders.

The survey was compiled from the results from 14,500 volunteers who send the BTO a weekly report of the feathered visitors in their gardens.

Dr Tim Harrison, from the Norfolk-based BTO's Garden Birdwatch team, said: "We're most excited about goldfinches coming into gardens. They are very exotic birds: bright red faces, gold wing bars, black tails, they are just really really great to look at.

"The revolution that we've seen in foods and feeders that are being provided for garden birds is really supporting this species."

The survey suggests that 57.9% of gardens in an average week are visited by goldfinches, compared with 12.2% of gardens in 1995, when the BTO's survey started. The rise has been steady over the intervening years.

Wood pigeons have also been more frequently seen in gardens.

In 1995, they were the 12th most common bird, seen in 47.5% of gardens in a typical week; in 2011 they were spotted in 82.2% of gardens, making them the fourth most common visitor.

The birds coming most frequently to gardens in 2011 were blue tits, blackbirds and robins, and this has remained little changed over the years that volunteers having been recording their results.

The survey also highlighted some species that are in decline.

A succession of cold winters seem to have hit wrens, with fewer visiting households compared with the BTO's long-term average, which was calculated between 1995 and 2010.

Greenfinches are also now less likely to be seen in gardens.

Dr Harrison said: "Greenfinches are being affected by a disease called trichomonosis.

"During 2011, their numbers were down by a tenth compared with the average over the last two years, and this is is despite a fantastic breeding season that year."

Image caption Despite a strong breeding season, greenfinches have been badly hit by disease

The BTO also found that some birds that are more usually spotted in the countryside seem to be taking advantages of gardens.

"Because of changes in agricultural practice, such as moves to autumnal sowing rather than spring sowing, this means there is less food available at the end of the winter," explained Dr Harrison.

"You end up with the 'hungry gap', and now we are seeing that species such as reed bunting, lesser redpoll, bullfinches and yellowhammer are coming into gardens more and more."

It is estimated that between 40-50% of households in the UK and Ireland now feed the birds in their gardens, which corresponds to about 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of bird food a year.

Dr Harrison said: "It can represent an important resource for those birds when food in habitats is scarce."

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