Almost 1.2 million house sparrows were spotted in British gardens during this winter’s Big Garden Birdwatch but smaller garden birds appear to have suffered from the previous winter’s cold weather.

Long-tailed tits decreased by more than 27% and wrens by 17% in 2019 after bumper years in 2018, according to the RSPB survey.

Populations of both species are thought to have been affected by last year’s “beast from the east”: small birds are more susceptible to extreme chilly spells.

long tailed tit

The most sighted species among 7.5 million birds counted by nearly 500,000 people over the last weekend in January was the house sparrow, followed by the starling, blue tit, blackbird and woodpigeon. Numbers of the latter have increased by more than 1,000% since the survey began in 1979.

The once-abundant house sparrow and starling have suffered long-term declines, with the sparrow’s numbers falling by 56% since the birdwatch began. In the last decade, however, the sparrow’s numbers have increased by 10% in the survey, “giving us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening,” said Daniel Hayhow, an RSPB conservation scientist. “This year’s survey also highlighted a rise in the number of sightings of redwings and fieldfares on last year’s figures,” he added.

The long-tailed tit dropped out of the top 10, replaced by the magpie which, like the collared dove (11th), is another larger bird to have more than doubled its sightings in gardens since the birdwatch began.


Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “Our garden birds should be a part of our everyday life. For many people they provide our only connection to the natural world and bring enormous joy. To have hundreds of thousands of people spend an hour watching the wildlife in their garden doesn’t only help us build up a picture of how our garden birds are doing, but people who take part feel better.”

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