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December 21, 2021


Take 5 Actions to help prevent Loss of British Songbird Species most threatened by Climate Change

House martins, blue tits and song thrushes are just some species being hit.

SongBird Survival charity: Stop songbirds being the canary in the coalmine!

Take 5 Actions:

  1. 1. Encourage biodiversity: plant insect-attracting and seeding plants. Use fewer pesticides
  2. 2. Create a safe, bird friendly garden with plants that provide options for shelter and natural food 
  3. 3. Provide fresh, clean supplementary food, on a regular basis, particularly in mid-winter
  4. 4. Offer clean water, refreshed daily, throughout the year
  5. 5. Get others involved, support our work, donate or fundraise
“Songbirds really are the canary in the coalmine: Climate change is hitting us with more extreme weather events, such as droughts and heat waves which put enormous stress on songbirds trying to feed and breed. Parched ground means some can’t access insects and worms for chicks. If insects appear too early or too late, breeding seasons are thrown off-kilter, and birds are caught out. Climate change has also brought increased risk of predation of some songbirds. There will always be winners and losers, but it’s the little birds losing out most. We hope the biodiversity and climate change conferences unite the UK around species that enrich our lives.”  - Susan Morgan, CEO, SongBird Survival

21st October 2021 [LONDON] Climate change is wreaking havoc with UK songbird populations: Britain’s beloved dawn chorus is threatened by a plethora of factors which have conspired to see UK’s songbird numbers halved* in the last 50 years. Climate change is a factor in the decline of certain species, including house martins, song thrushes and meadow pipits. (See regional breakdown below.)


Climate change is leading to more extreme weather, including floods and droughts. Parched earth prevents the beaks of species such as song thrushes reaching worms and insects to feed themselves or their young. Extreme temperatures mean birdbaths and waterways freeze over, and dehydration results, as with hot summers. Smaller birds are particularly prone to such physical stresses: a robin can lose up to 10% of its body fat in one cold night, and reed buntings suffer particularly badly in a cold snap, as most adults aren’t fat enough to survive. 

Higher average overall temperatures over a 25 year period show that small bodied birds nest and lay eggs markedly earlier. There appear to be ‘winners’, such as long tailed tits, blackcaps and chiffchaffs which benefit from warmer weather. Likewise, robins are more ‘generalist’ - they can move habitat more readily, plus, they benefit more than other species from living near humans - possibly as we feed them - whereas their numbers in the countryside have been falling. That said, moving means robins will face territorial issues and food competition issues. However, other species cannot ‘up sticks and move,’ - those with a narrower range of suitable habitats, such as the willow tit (down by a shocking 94% between 1995 - 2018). 

Climate change is also altering the timings of our seasons. Warmer winters means birds are nesting earlier, but drier springs mean there are not enough insects for parents to feed their young. (Insects need ‘April showers’). This in turn will mean chicks are not fat enough to survive the winter when it arrives. The same situation applies if plants don’t seed to provide food sources at the optimal time for birds to take full advantage.

The onus is therefore on we humans at the ‘top of the tree’ to support the little birds. Hence, independent charity, SongBird Survival, is calling on the public to take 5 Actions. After all, putting aside our need for biodiversity, there is mounting evidence on the positive impact of hearing birdsong for mental health: Recent research found 4 out of 5 Brits say birdsong makes them happier, and 72% say it makes them less stressed. Here’s how can we can combat climate change to help keep their exquisite songs alive: 

5 ACTIONS: How The Public can help prevent Climate change impacting Songbirds?

Five actions to support songbirds threatened by climate change:-

  1. 1. Encourage wider biodiversity in your garden, enabling all native wildlife to flourish by planting insect attracting plants, seeding plants, using fewer pesticides to nurture native species.
  2. 2. Create a safe, bird friendly garden with plants that provide options for shelter and natural food over the winter e.g. sunflowers, teasel, holly and ivy.
  3. 3. Provide fresh, clean supplementary food, on a regular basis, particularly during the "hungry gap" in mid-winter.
  4. 4. Offer clean water, refreshed daily, throughout the year, including watering patches of soil during dry spells and breaking ice in winter.
  5. 5. Get others involved, talk to them about how they can take action, or support our work by becoming a member of SongBird Survival, donating or fundraising.


If you’re a gardener, you can boost biodiversity by planting pollinator-loving blooms. Other suggestions include removing paving stones on driveways to leave four tyre-sized spaces, and let plants grow back. This benefits birds and other wildlife, and prevents flash flooding in urban areas. Plants that provide seeds for birds over winter include holly and ivy: both produce berries as well as providing shelter for songbirds. Tuft-forming grasses also attract all manner of insects, producing a ‘bug feast’ which songbirds won't be able to resist! See more here. With a cold snap, birds can’t find enough food, and though the UK public spends ~£200-300m a year on bird food, only certain species will come to gardens to feed. Fortunately, wildlife-friendly farmers are putting out feed in fields for over-wintering birds thanks to new, nature-friendly policy decisions. 


SongBird Survival funds well-publicised research by the University of Exeter showing how cat owners can prevent hunting of birds and mammals through simple interventions that don't impact pet welfare: 5-10 minutes’ play per day, feed a premium, meaty diet, fit a collar cuff to deter birds. Be aware that birds are routinely exposed to neonicotinoid mixtures used in flea treatments for domestic cats and dogs, as some of these chemicals, logically, leach onto gardens, land and waterways: It is estimated that one flea treatment dose could kill approximately 60m bees.


The charity is also funding studies by world expert, Professor Dave Goulson and his team at the University of Sussex which is helping shed light on how birds are being impacted by agricultural use of pesticides. Despite the 2018 EU ban on use of neonicotinoids due to their impact on wildlife, in 2020, his team found that whilst the volume of pesticides used on UK crops fell 51% from 1990–2016, the area treated had increased by 63%. The area treated should be shrinking, not growing! Hence SongBird Survival supports a Government petition to ban urban and garden pesticides to protect bees, other wildlife and human health.

As Goulson notes in his book, Silent Earth - Averting the Insect Apocalypse, “The truth about these six-legged weirdos is that we cannot live without them… insects do much of the essential heavy lifting of planetary care. They pollinate, break down waste and provide food for us and countless other species, including birds. If they vanished tomorrow, the apocalypse would begin the next day.”  Farmers should also support hedgerow planting: a win-win for wildlife, climate and livelihoods: The Independent reported recently that boosting hedgerows by 40% would create 25,000 jobs, sequester CO2, mop up other pollutants, and prevent soil erosion.


Songbirds most at risk due to climate change, by region:-

North East - House Martin (-26%) | Meadow Pipit (-15%) | Blue Tit (-15%)

North West - House Martin (-44%) | Meadow Pipit  (-13%)| Reed Bunting (-10%) 

Yorkshire - House Martin (-10%) | Blue Tit (-4%)

East Midlands - Meadow Pipit (-54%)

West Midlands - House Martin (-42%) | Blue Tit (-5%)

South East - House Martin (-56%) | Meadow Pipit (-44%) | Reed Bunting (-34%)

South West - House Martin (-56%) | Meadow Pipit (-24%) | Blue Tit (-6%)

London - Song Thrush (-36%)

East Anglia - Meadow Pipit (-60%) | House Martin (-39%) | Song Thrush (-2%)

Wales - House Martin (-19%) | Meadow Pipit (-15%) | Blue Tit (-8%)

Northern Ireland - Reed Bunting (-28%)

Scotland - Meadow Pipit (-10%)

  1. George Bradley, Manager of SongBird Survival, sums things up, “Few people realise UK songbirds have fallen 50%in 50 years, with climate change as an ever-greater threat. BUT EVERYONE can help songbirds with just 5 simple actions to  help stem this tide. We can also put pressure on policy-makers to make songbirds a priority. Birdsong feeds our sanity. We must keep a rich and diverse dawn chorus alive!”  *The 50% decline refers to all songbird species: some have declined by up to 90%, whilst others have increased. The aim is to boost biodiversity. 


  • Susan Morgan, CEO, SongBird Survival - based in Yorkshire
  • George Bradley, Manager, SongBird Survival - based in Norfolk


Blue Tit:  Marrot P, Garant D, Charmantier A. 2017 Multiple extreme climatic events strengthen selection for earlier breeding in a wild passerine. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 372: 20160372.

“While increasing natural selection under climate change could be a route for populations to adapt to climate change, it could also be an indicator of increased extinction risk since it suggests that part of the population has reduced fitness” 

Song Thrush: Peach, Will & Robinson, Robert & MURRAY, KATHRYN. (2004). Demographic and environmental causes of the decline of rural Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos in lowland Britain. Ibis. 146. 50 - 59. “Earthworms constitute a key component of Song Thrush diet and the availability of this prey is strongly influenced by moisture levels in surface soils.” (although not necessarily caused by climate change – also farming practices.)

Meadow Pipit: Telleria JL, Fernandez-Lopez J, Fandos G. Effect of climate change on mediterranean winter ranges of two migratory passerines. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 13;11(1): “projected climate changes in the region will affect the extent and suitability of their wintering grounds.”

Reed Bunting: Peach, W.J., Siriwardena, G.M. and Gregory, R.D. (1999), Long-term changes in over-winter survival rates explain the decline of reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology, 36: 798-811. “decline of the British reed bunting population was caused primarily by a reduction in food availability outside the breeding season.” (although not necessarily caused by climate change

House Martin: Dolenec, Zdravko and Dolenec, PetraSpring migration characteristics of the House Martin, Delichon urbica (Aves: Hirundinidae) in Croatia: A response to climate change?. Zoologia (Curitiba) [online]. 2011, v. 28, n. 1 pp. 139-141. “the arrival timing of the House Martin is influenced by spring air temperatures”

Long Tailed Tit: Gullett, P., Evans, K.L., Robinson, R.A. and Hatchwell, B.J. (2014), Climate change and annual survival in a temperate passerine: partitioning seasonal effects and predicting future patterns. Oikos, 123: 389-400. “Recent climate change has enhanced survival over the four decades in which the UK long-tailed tit population has more than doubled. Furthermore, survival rates in this species are predicted to further increase under a wide range of future climate scenarios.”


Founded in 2001, SongBird Survival is the only charity in the UK solely dedicated to halting the alarming decline of song and other small birds – birds, such as corn bunting, willow tit, tree & house sparrow. It does so by funding independent scientific studies that aim to shed light on the reasons why around 50% of our songbirds have disappeared over the past 50 years. These studies will help determine how land can be managed more sustainably, with a view to restoring a rich, balanced and resilient population of birds similar to that enjoyed in the 1970s to help keep a healthy dawn chorus alive.  

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