Golden year for the goldfinch


Results from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch reveal favourable conditions lead to a surge in goldfinch.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK, including over 6,600 people in Lincolnshire, spent an hour watching the birds that visit their garden or outdoor space as a part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

The latest results have revealed a golden year for the goldfinch along with a number of other small birds after a surge in sightings in gardens across the country.

Sightings of blue tit and coal tit have also been more common, along with sightings of smaller garden birds.

The results revealed a dip in sightings of more solitary species like blackbird and robin as the mild winter meant they spent more time foraging for food away from our gardens.

More than one million birds were counted in the East, contributing to an impressive 6.7 million birds counted nationally.

Now in its 39th year, the Birdwatch is a chance for people of all ages to count the number of birds that visit their garden helping the RSPB build up a picture of how they are doing.

This year, more than 6,600 people across Lincolnshire, joined nearly half-a-million people nationally in counting an impressive 6.7 million birds.

The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an increase in sightings of smaller birds, such as goldfinch, long-tailed tit and coal tit that can usually be seen visiting gardens and outside spaces in mixed flocks.

In Lincolnshire, recorded sightings of the brightly coloured, sociable finch rose by 14% on 2017 figures and its bright red face was seen almost 40 per cent of the county’s gardens.

Other small birds that are thought to have benefited from the mild January weather include coal tit (+7%) and blue tit (+2%).

It also proved to be a good year for the greenfinch after a 3% rise in sightings across the county, a welcome sign for a species that has undergone a 60% decline in UK sightings since the first survey in 1979.

The influx of these species to our gardens is thought to be linked to the favourable conditions during their successful breeding season in 2017.

This, combined with the kind autumn and winter weather in the run up to the Birdwatch, will have contributed to the rise in sightings.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Our garden birds are a part of our everyday life, whether it’s the robin perched on the garden fence or the flock of starlings you see on your way to work.

“To have hundreds of thousands of people spend an hour watching the wildlife in their garden isn’t only great to see, but it also helps us build up a picture of how our garden birds are doing, which is really helpful.

“Last summer was a really good year for many breeding birds with warm weather creating great conditions for many smaller birds to raise their young to adulthood.

“The rise in sightings of goldfinch, long-tailed tit and coal tit, along with chaffinches and greenfinches, goes to show that in the absence of cold weather they can survive the winter months in good numbers.

“Looking at the results it is likely that across the UK this is what people are seeing in their garden.”

It is likely that the warmer temperatures during the autumn and winter will have made it easier for these birds to find food, like insects, in our gardens, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.

The survey also highlighted a county-wide dip in the number of recorded sightings of blackbirds (-18%), robins (-12%) and wren (-16%) on last year’s figures.

Dr Hayhow explained: “We all will have noticed that the weather earlier in the winter was slightly warmer than we’re use to, and our garden birds have felt this too.

“It’s usual for there to be more food available in the wider countryside during a mild winter meaning birds are less reliant on the treats we put out on the garden feeders.

“However, unlike the finches and tits, robins and wrens did not have a good breeding season in 2017 and data from other surveys indicate that their numbers may be down overall this year.”

In Lincolnshire, the house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings in the county, as one of the most commonly seen garden birds throughout the weekend.

Starling held down the second spot once more, and despite a decrease in sightings the blackbird also remained in the top three.

Throughout the first half of the spring term the nation’s school children took part in the RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch.

The UK-wide survey of birds in school grounds saw over 650 school children in Lincolnshire spend an hour in nature counting the birds.

Despite a drop in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings, the blackbird remained top of the Big Schools Birdwatch rankings with one being spotted in 88% of schools – a 22% increase on 2017.

• For a full round up of all the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, click here