Fewer Wild Birds Are Visiting Gardens in the UK, Survey Finds
An analysis of data from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has found that fewer wild birds are visiting gardens in the UK.
RSPB analyzed data from its annual Big Garden Birdwatch, which kicks off in late January each year since 1979. The Big Garden Birdwatch asks participants to spend at least one hour observing and counting birds during the event’s specified timeframe. Participants then send their findings to RSPB as part of a citizen science project.
According to RSPB, house sparrows were the No. 1 spotted bird in the 2023 survey, which recorded over 9.1 million birds in total, including 1,401,338 house sparrows. But even that species is in decline by 57% compared to the number of house sparrows counted in the first survey in 1979.
The song thrush species has also seen drastic losses, with the 2023 count down by 80% compared to the 1979 survey.
“Sadly this snapshot is a reminder of how many of our most loved birds are at the forefront of the nature and climate emergency,” RSPB’s chief executive Beccy Speight told the BBC.
The findings weren’t all negative, though. Goldfinches have increased since the survey began, in part thanks to a surge in birdfeeders, the BBC reported. Woodpigeons and long-tailed tits are also on the rise.
Birds around the world are facing many problems that have contributed to their decline. Extreme weather and climate change have been linked to declines in breeding of Antarctic seabirds, and a 2022 study found that birds across Europe are being affected by climate change in a variety of ways. Some of these problems included body changes linked to heat stress, shifts in egg-laying dates and decreases in the number of offspring.
Pollution is also affecting birds in ways that are still being studied. A study published in 2023 linked light pollution to shrinking eye sizes of birds, and another study from last year found that birds around the world were incorporating trash like cigarette butts and plastic waste into their nests.
Research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) estimated a loss of 73 million birds in Britain since 1970, including 30 million house sparrows.
These losses have experts urging people to spend more time birding and making their yards more welcoming to birds by providing native plants, especially plants that can provide shelter and food to birds.
“With birds facing so many challenges, it’s more important than ever to get involved in the Birdwatch,” RSPB said on its website. “Every bird you do — or don’t — count will give us a valuable insight into how garden birds are faring.”
The 2024 count has just wrapped up, with this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch taking place from January 24 to January 28. The results will help RSPB further track bird populations, making note of declining and vulnerable species that could benefit from further protections.