Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 09:50 UK

Small garden birds hit by cold weather, Birdwatch finds

Long-tailed tit (right) and a blue tit feeding in a Hampshire garden
The number of long-tailed tits (right) has fallen by 27% since last year

The number of small birds - including coal tits and goldcrests - spotted in gardens has fallen as a result of this winter's big freeze, the RSPB has said.

Coal tit numbers fell by 20% and goldcrests by 75%, the charity's annual Big Garden Birdwatch found.

But icy weather created more sightings of less frequent visitors, it added.

The count, which took place on 30 and 31 January, recorded more than 8.5 million birds of 73 different species in 280,000 gardens across the UK.

More than 530,000 people took part in the birdwatching event.

Long-tailed tits - which made it into the top 10 most spotted garden visitors for the first time last year - fell by 27% in January's count.

These results highlight the importance of feeding and gardening for wildlife, especially during prolonged cold periods
Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Sarah Kelly

But there was a rise in countryside birds such as fieldfares, yellowhammers, redwings and bullfinches, which are normally found in fields, farmland trees and hedgerows, the charity said.

Song thrushes and mistle thrushes were also seen in higher numbers.

Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Sarah Kelly said: "We were particularly concerned for small birds over the winter, asking people to make sure they kept feeders topped up and supplied fresh water to help them.

"These results highlight the importance of feeding and gardening for wildlife, especially during prolonged cold periods."

1. House sparrow
2. Blackbird
3. Starling
4. Blue tit
5. Chaffinch
6. Wood pigeon
7. Robin
8. Great tit
9. Collared dove
10. Goldfinch
Source: RSPB

The RSPB said an unusually high number of blackcaps - which they would have expected to struggle in the cold - were spotted in the survey, probably as a result of them adjusting their feeding behaviour to take advantage of food put out on bird tables and feeders.

The conservation charity said it believed the appearance of the long-tailed tit in the top 10 most seen birds in 2009 was also the result of it becoming more used to feeding in gardens.

While the birds occupying this year's top 10 were seen in broadly similar numbers to the survey in 2009, the charity said Britain's most common species are in long-term decline.

The house sparrow remains the most commonly spotted bird, but its numbers have fallen by 17% in the past five years, and by almost two-thirds since the first survey in 1979.

The starling - which has seen numbers fall by 79% since the first annual birdwatch - dropped out of the top two most commonly seen birds for the first time in more than 10 years, pushed back into third place by the blackbird.

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