Climate change effects ‘will show during RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch’

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

With the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch just days away, the charity is predicting the results will show evidence of the effects of climate change on British garden birds.

RSPB Big Garden logo

It says goldfinches are likely to feature strongly as warmer weather has helped their breeding and made them less likely to migrate – but blue tits could well have suffered badly because of last year’s wet summer.

Up to half a million people are expected to take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, where volunteers spend an hour surveying the numbers of birds in their garden or local park. The combined information makes a valuable contribution to understanding changing bird populations, says the RSPB.

The survey has been running for 29 years and goldfinches have never before appeared in the top 10 list of most-spotted birds – but that will almost certainly change this year.

The RSPB’s Dr Andre Farrar said: “The last six years have been the warmest since records began. Over the same time, numbers of goldfinches seen in gardens during the Big Garden Birdwatch have steadily increased.”

He said that goldfinch numbers had increased by half during the last three decades and last year appeared to have been a very good breeding season for them, with twice as many chicks as 2006.

They have also benefited from changing garden fashions: “Putting out nyjer seed, to encourage goldfinches, is becoming increasingly popular. Also, the trend for less manicured gardens encourages plants such as thistles and teasels, which provide vital seeds for finches.”

Last year’s wet summer may possibly have helped blackbirds and song thrushes by making it easier to find snails, slugs and earthworms to feed their young. But it’s played havoc with blue tits, condemning them to their worst ever breeding season since records began. Only slightly more than half of young blue tits fledged.

Dr Farrar said: “We know that in the last 40 years blue tits have begun laying eggs earlier and earlier. This means they are increasingly out-of-sync with the appearance of caterpillars. Last year, not only did they have to deal with this, but they also had the terrible weather conditions. I would expect numbers seen during the Big Garden Birdwatch to decrease this year.”

With so much vital trend-spotting information potentially up for grabs, the charity is keen that as many people as possible take part. Sarah Kelly, co-ordinator of the event, said: “The great thing about Big Garden Birdwatch is that anyone can do it. You don’t need to be an expert, all you need is a pen and paper. It’s easy, it’s fun and it only takes an hour.

“Grab a cuppa, sit down, relax and enjoying looking at your garden and the birds in it. Just record the highest number of each species seen at any one time and send us your results. That’s it.”

To take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend of 26/27 January, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

Visit the RSPB’s dedicated Big Garden Birdwatch website for more information and to submit your results online.

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