The Big Garden Birdwatch – Results!

At number ten – long-tailed tit babies

Dear Readers, the results are in for the 2023 Big Garden Birdwatch,(BGB) run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (though my husband calls it the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds which seems a little unkind). As you might remember, for one weekend in January lots of people count the birds that appear in their gardens or local parks, and record the maximum number of birds that they see at any one time. So here’s the countdown for this year.

At number ten, it’s the long-tailed tit, up from fifteenth place in 2022. I wonder if this bird features because they’re nearly always seen in little flocks, which bumps up the numbers? I know you’re not supposed to have favourites, but these little chaps are definitely up there for me. There’s something about them that always reminds me of small flying monkeys. The BGB participants counted 339,793 of the little devils.

At number nine (and a non-mover), it’s the magpie. I have a grudging respect for these birds, and they’ve certainly made the shift to urban life – 339,725 sightings were reported. I wonder if jackdaws will feature at any point soon? They’ve come to East Finchley in some numbers in the past few years, having been absent from much of London for decades.

Magpie at number nine

At number eight it’s the great tit, another non-mover. There are a pair nesting somewhere close to the house but I haven’t spotted the nest yet. The garden rings to the sound of them calling – ‘Teeecher, teeecher!’, and no wonder – 425,750 were counted.

Great tit, a non-mover at number eight

At number seven it’s the goldfinch, which seems to have taken to our gardens in some numbers over the past few years. I have an enormous crop of teasel coming up this year (it’s a biennial, so from my single plant two years ago I now have about ten lots of rosette leaves, and should get ‘flowers’ in the summer), and they are a favourite, so it will be interesting to see if the goldfinches take advantage of this natural food. The count for goldfinches was 491,934.

Goldfinch, a non-mover at number seven.

Then it’s the robin, another non-mover at number six. There can’t be many gardens without a resident robin (or possibly two). To check if you have one, just do a bit of digging and see if one appears. 498,612 were counted for the BGB.

The robin, a non-mover at number six

Yet another non-mover is the blackbird at number five. How I love this bird, with its fluty song and wide range of alarm calls! When something is close by and the bird doesn’t want to be noticed it utters a kind of clicking sound which is strangely difficult to trace – I’ve been standing right next to a blackbird in a bush making this call and haven’t been able to work out where it’s coming from. On the other hand, there’s the more familiar alarm call which lets all and sundry know that there’s a problem. 716, 734 were counted.

Blackbird song (recording by Hannu Varki in Finland)

Alarm call (recording by Sreekumar Chirukandoth from the Veneto in Italy)

And this is the call that the bird gives when it doesn’t particularly want to be located…(recording by Susanne Kuijpers in The Netherlands)

The blackbird, a non-mover at number five.

At number four it’s the woodpigeon, another non-mover. Over three-quarters of a million woodpigeons were spotted, which is impressive by anybody’s standards. Here are two beating one another up on the bird table during lockdown. However much food you put out, there’s never enough for these guys to share.

Woodpigeons, non-movers at number four

At number three, it’s the starling, with 904,079 observations. You might think that’s a lot of birds, but they’re down by 80% over the past few decades. Let’s treasure the ones we have, however raucous and argumentative they might seem.

The starling at number three.

Then it’s the blue tit – it clocks in just slightly ahead of the starling, with 904,637 sightings. It sometimes feels as if every garden has at least one pair. Which makes me wonder how many duplicates there are if lots of people are recording in the same area and the birds travel. Hmm, that’s an interesting data problem. I suppose the key is the trends, rather than the absolute numbers. This OU degree of mine is certainly changing the way that I think about things.

Blue tit, a non-mover at number two.

And finally, it’s the house sparrow, with 1,401,338 sightings. Again, that might seem impressive. Again, numbers are down by about 80% over the past few decades, but the numbers seem to be stabilising and even going up in some parts of the country. I look forward to a more detailed analysis of the numbers, and will keep you posted if I discover anything interesting.

House sparrow, number one for the twentieth consecutive year….


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