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Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Thursday, 31 March 2011 09:30 UK
British garden birds are bouncing back
By Emma Brennand
Nature reporter, BBC News

Blue tit, Parus caeruleus, perched on branch in garden. Co. Durham. October.
Populations of blue tits have increased by 33% since 1979

A national survey has recorded an encouraging rise in small bird populations in the UK.

In January, over 600,000 people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The results, published this week, show a promising increase in garden bird populations since last year.

Over 10.2 million birds were counted. Goldcrest sightings doubled, while long-tailed tits rose by a third.

The annual survey, now in its 32nd year, was held on Saturday 29 January.

The survey asked people to take to their gardens and public open spaces to count the number of birds during a given hour.

Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus, perched in tree, Woburn, Bedfordshire, February.
When breeding ground populations become too large for the food available, waxwings migrate to the UK

The harsh winter conditions of 2009-10 caused significant drops in the number of small birds recorded in last year's Big Garden Birdwatch.

"We were really interested to see how the small birds fared after such a disastrous last year," says Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Sarah Kelly.

"It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little."

This year's results suggest an encouraging increase in long-tailed tits, goldcrests and coal tits.

But Sarah Kelly warns that people must not be complacent: "Another hard winter could see numbers back down so it's important everyone continues to feed their garden birds."

Many other previously declining populations, such as the blackbird and robin, also appear to be doing better, with numbers having stabilised when compared to last year.

Robin, Erithacus rubecula, on bird table in garden. Co. Durham. October.
609,177 people counted over 10.2 million birds covering 70 species
Goldcrest (103%), Long-tailed tit (32%) and coal tits (24%) numbers are up on last year
Numbers of blackbirds, wood pigeons, collared doves and robins, are similar to last year
Since 1979, collared dove and wood pigeon populations have risen by 333% and 850% respectively
House sparrow numbers are still causing concern having fallen 58% since 1979
Numbers of blue tits increased by 22% and great tit numbers were up by 12%

Starlings and blackbirds have swapped positions on this year's leader board, with starlings now at number two and blackbirds at number three.

Starling sightings have increased by a quarter since last year, but their numbers are still down from when Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.

The house sparrow retained its top spot for the eighth year running with an average of four seen per garden, a population increase of 10% since last year. However, the 58% decrease in house sparrow numbers since 1979 is still a cause of concern.

Numbers of great tits were up by 12% while sightings of blue tits increased by 22%.

More than 7,000 sightings of the striking waxwing were recorded. These winter migrants arrive in the UK from Scandinavia in search of food.

"We knew this was going to be a bumper year for waxwings as we'd had so many reports from all over the UK," says RSPB scientist Mark Eaton.

"But the Big Garden Birdwatch is the first indicator of exactly how many were seen in gardens, and we're pleased that so many people got to enjoy sightings of these beautiful birds."


Waxwings are very particular feeders and are attracted only to gardens that contain berries.

The RSPB believes the increase in waxwings shows that people are encouraging the right plants for wildlife and reaping the rewards.

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