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Climate Changes Birds in our Gardens

RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH - 27/28 JANUARY 2007

Climate change could be keeping the birds out of our gardens, and the RSPB is urging people across the country to help them monitor numbers.

This weekend (27-28 January) is the charity’s Big Garden Birdwatch, when it hopes half a million people will spend an hour counting the birds in their gardens to help build a detailed picture of garden bird life.

Richard Bashford, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator, said: “Last year’s summer was the hottest since Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.  This was followed by an incredibly warm autumn with lots of natural foods in our woodlands and hedgerows. We’re really interested to see the impact of this unusual combination of weather and abundant wild food on wintering garden bird numbers.”

Many of the birds seen in UK gardens are not year long residents. Some robins, blackbirds, song thrushes and starlings migrate to British gardens from across the continent. Autumn 2006 saw new heat records set across Europe. Following this, experts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts predicted a mild winter would follow and despite the current cold snap January temperatures have been above average.

Richard added: “Without colder weather to trigger their migration, and with so much natural food available where they are, many of these birds may not feel the need to make the journey to the UK. This could have a real impact on what we see during the Birdwatch.”

However, Big Garden Birdwatch has shown that milder weather in the UK is encouraging more unusual species such as the blackcap and chiffchaff to winter in our gardens. These birds, usually winter in southern Europe or northern Africa. With this winter being one of the warmest on record will the blackcap and chiffchaff rise up the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings?

The climate is also affecting the success of berry, fruit and seed crops, which may in turn affect which birds we see in our gardens. Last autumn, blackberries ripened a full month earlier than they did five years ago, and data from the 2006 Autumnwatch survey predicted a bumper crop of autumn fruits.

More berries in hedgerows and woodlands could mean fewer birds in our gardens. Common migrants and rarer species such as fieldfares and redwings are finding plenty of natural food without coming into gardens, but this may change if the current cold weather continues.

Richard said: “Further changes to our climate will inevitably mean more unusual species in our gardens but it could also see the disappearance of many familiar faces.

“Big Garden Birdwatch is easy to do and can make a valuable contribution to conservation by helping us to monitor the effect climate change may be having. However, you don’t have to be an expert to take part - it’s a fun event designed for all the family.”

To take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend of 27/28 January, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the first indicators to show how well UK birds have fared during the previous breeding season and winter. With 28 years worth of data and half a million people expected to participate, the results give an early indication of garden bird trends.

Visit the RSPB website www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch for more information and to submit your results online.

Ends

For further information, please contact:
Farrah Stevens, RSPB press office, 01767 681577
Richard Bashford, RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator, 01767 680551

Photographs and broadcast-quality footage:
Photographs of last year’s top twenty Big Garden Birdwatch species are available in digital format from the press office on 01767 681577. Further images are available in digital format from RSPB Images by contacting Naddy Tweed on 0114 258 0001, email: [email protected]

Broadcast-quality Beta footage is available on request from the RSPB press office.

Additional notes:
1) The table shows the average number of the top 10 species of birds recorded per garden across the UK in the 1979 Big Garden Birdwatch, and compares this with the results from 2006 survey.

Species Average per garden in 2006      Average per garden in 1979      % change      
house sparrow   4.41    10.00   -56   
starling        3.64    15.00   -76   
blackbird       3.01    4.00    -25   
blue tit        2.74    2.44    12    
chaffinch       2.24    3.00    -25   
greenfinch      1.67    1.00    67    
collared dove   1.55    0.28    453   
woodpigeon      1.53    0.20    665   
great tit       1.41    0.90    57    
robin   1.36    2.00    -32   

The RSPB has launched a fantastic series of podcasts to mark Big Garden Birdwatch on 27/28 January. Hosted by Kate Humble, the series tells you all you need to know about taking part in the world's biggest birdwatching survey! For more details, log onto www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch