Page last updated at 05:43 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Long-tailed tit flies up charts

Long-tailed tits (pic: Peter Beesley)
Some people have been feeding the birds a more suitable diet

Mild winters and a new diet have helped the long-tailed tit make it into the top 10 birds spotted in UK gardens, says conservation charity the RSPB.

More frequent visits meant it reached the highest ranks of the Big Garden Birdwatch poll for the first time.

The RSPB said the bird had benefited from a series of mild winters and from adapting to visiting garden feeders.

The survey, done in January, recorded almost twice as many long-tailed tits compared with last year.

That took it from 14th in 2008, to 10th in 2009.

More than half a million people took part in the annual survey, which saw numbers of all but one of the top 10 birds increase slightly on last year's figures.

The sparrow still occupied top spot, with the highest average number of birds spotted in gardens, while the starling stayed in second place despite a slight drop in numbers.

Blackbirds also held onto their third place spot, although all three of the most common birds have seen numbers drop significantly since the first Garden Birdwatch in 1979.

Small insect-eating birds like the long-tailed tit are particularly susceptible to snowy and frosty conditions which make their food hard to come by.

This means warmer winters improve their survival rates, said the RSPB.

The charity said the bird had also adapted to feeding on seeds and peanuts at bird tables, and from feeders, in the last 10 years.

Part of the boost in numbers could also be down to the type of food homeowners are putting out for birds, with some supplying bird feed that is more varied and more suitable for the species.

The poll's co-ordinator Sarah Kelly said the increase in sightings highlighted the impact feeding can have on some types of bird.

"They have only started coming to feeders fairly recently, and more people are seeing them as this behaviour develops."

This year's survey also showed an influx of winter visitor waxwings - a "surprising find" in gardens - as the result of a particularly cold winter in Scandinavia leading to a poor crop of rowan berries.

Position Bird Species Average number
per garden
Source: RSPB
1 A house sparrow House sparrow 3.70
2 A starling Starling 3.21
3 A blackbird Blackbird 2.84
4 A blue tit Blue tit 2.45
5 A chaffinch Chaffinch 2.01
6 A woodpigeon Woodpigeon 1.85
7 A collared dove Collared dove 1.44
8 A great tit Great tit 1.40
9 A robin Robin 1.36
10 A long-tailed tit Long-tailed tit 1.34

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