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Are UK Garden Birds in Decline?

July 8, 2021

When feeding your garden birds it can leave you wondering are UK garden birds in decline, and if so why are garden birds in decline? The 2021 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch found that shockingly 16 of Britain’s top garden birds are in decline. These findings follow a hard year where many of us depended more than ever on wildlife. Watching garden birds continues to offer both comfort and support to us and has been proven to boost our mental health. Read on for more information and explanations of the findings.

Which Bird Species are in Decline?

The RSPB found that 16 of the top 20 UK garden bird species are in decline. Whilst the humble House Sparrow retained top position, the Blue Tit took second place. This is the first time Starlings have slid from second place since 2010, with numbers down a shocking 83% since 1979.

Another worrying finding saw Greenfinches and Chaffinches at their lowest average since the recordings began. Goldfinches and Collared Doves also saw sharp declines. The Song Thrush which was once a regular in many gardens is also declining, with their population down over 50% since 1979.

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

Despite the worrying findings in the declining populations of some of our much loved garden visitors, there were some positive findings from the birdwatch. Both Blackbirds and Robins moved up the list to 4th and 6th place suggesting their population are on the rise.

Another positive was that more than a million people took part in the birdwatch, double the amount who took part in 2020. This shows that many people developed a new found appreciation for garden wildlife through the hard times of lockdown.

The Top 10 UK Garden Birds:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Blue Tit
  3. Starling
  4. Blackbird
  5. Wood Pigeon
  6. Robin
  7. Great Tit
  8. Goldfinch
  9. Magpie
  10. Long-tailed Tit

So Why Are Garden Birds In Decline?

Country wide there has been a gradual decline in nearly all of our garden birds. This is due to a wide range of factors although it’s thought that the most damaging threats to their populations are farming and harsh weather.

Farming

The changes in farming practices in recent years is thought to be the driving factor in wild bird populations declining here in the UK. These practices include the removal of hedge rows, increased use of pesticides, demolition and replacement of old barn buildings and ploughing right up to field edges to name but a few.

All of these practices have had a devastating impact on birds as the loss of habitat diversity means that not only are there fewer places to nest, but also fewer places to forage. Without places to nest and feed wild birds can’t lay eggs which is what’s causing their gradual decline. As these practices continue, birds will continue to be pushed out, unable to survive in these areas.

Weather

The harsh, cold conditions of winter can often lead to birds dying of starvation due to lack of food sources. The smaller the bird the more likely they are to succumb to the harshness of the winter months.

Not only can lack of food cause devastation in winter, it can also mean life or death during fledgling season. Food availability in May to June is crucial in deciding how many chicks survive. If food is limited not only will less chicks survive to fledge, but birds may also have less broods. A poor breeding season will result in lower numbers of birds the next season, with many species taking a few years to bounce back from particularly bad breeding seasons.

How You Can Help Garden Birds

There are many ways you can help to support our garden bird populations, big or small every and any action will help support your feathered friends.

Make your garden bird-friendly

Food

The number one thing you can do to support your garden birds is to make sure you have bird food. If possible try to offer a range of bird food such as Sunflower Hearts, Suet Balls and Seed Mixes but if not, even just one bird feeder can make a change and provide a vital food source for garden birds. Our top picks for starter bird feeders are the Fallen Fruits Three In One Bird Feeder, or the Jacobi Jayne Get Set Go Seed Feeder.

Water

A bird friendly garden should also provide birds with clean water to drink and bathe in. A bird bath is a great way to ensure birds have access to drinking water as well as somewhere to splash about in to clean their feathers. Check out our Bird Bath Guide for our top picks for your garden.

Grass

When landscaping your garden, try to ensure that at least part is grass. Although decking or gravel can look good, by leaving your garden as grass you are providing the perfect insect buffet for birds to feed on.

Shelter

Birds need shelter to not only protect themselves from the elements and predators, but also as somewhere to lay their eggs during breeding season. To help support garden birds you could purchase a Bird Box with sizes and colours to suit any garden, or you could even try to build your own!

Support garden birds through winter

When the winter weather sets in sometimes we forget that even though there are less around, garden birds need our help more then ever. Food is the number one priority for the birds throughout this time so try to make sure your feeders are always full. The best bird food for winter is a food source which is high in fat such as Suet Pellets and Suet Balls as these are an excellent source of energy for the birds. An Autumn-Winter Seed Mix is also ideal as it’s specially formulated with nutrient dense ingredients to offer garden birds the vital nourishment they need to survive the cold. As with your bird food, try to ensure your bird bath is always full and not frozen.

Another way to help our garden birds during winter is make sure bird boxes are accessible. To do this first make sure there are no current residents in the nesting box, then simply clear out all waste inside and spray with a Disinfectant Spray before putting back out. Bird boxes are a great way for birds to shelter and keep warm through the turbulent winter months.

For more advice read our article: Winter is coming: Helping your garden birds this season

Help injured birds

If you find an injured bird in your garden don’t panic, just ring your local wildlife/ bird rescue such as the RSPB and they should be able to offer you the correct advice and support. Don’t move the bird unless they are in immediate danger, in which case transfer them to a safer location, but try to wait to speak to an expert.

Wildlife charity finder: https://helpwildlife.co.uk/map/

Take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

One big thing you can do to help support garden birds is take part in next years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The more people who take part, the more accurate the findings will be. Make sure you get involved!

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

For more information on British birds be sure to check out our bird fact files: A to Z of British Garden Birds

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