Positive results from Sid Valley Big Garden Birdwatch

Nuthatch in the Aurthor's Garden

Nuthatch in the Aurthor's Garden - Credit: Charles Sinclair

We are delighted with the response of the good people of the Sid Valley who sent us their bird observations for the Big Garden Birdwatch as well as sending them off to the RSPB. The RSPB will announce their national findings in April so we thought we would give you our local results now.
So, what were the birds most commonly recorded in our gardens this January? I will give the list of the ten most common species at the end of this article and will talk through some of the interesting points first. We had 35 sets of observations sent in, giving us a very good picture of the bird life in the valley over this winter. In the text below, where there is a number in brackets after the species it indicates how many times that species was recorded in one of our gardens.

A Cheeky Pheasant

A cheeky pheasant - Credit: Charles Sinclair

The most species recorded in any one garden in one hour was 17. What an amazing result. The most unusual of these was a tree creeper (2) which was only recorded in two gardens in total. The largest number of birds in one garden was 53. Goldfinches (52) and house sparrows (72) were the species most likely to be recorded in large numbers. Overall, there were 27 bird species recorded. Sometimes you get lucky with an unusual bird taking advantage of the variety of food that so many people supply in the winter. The primary habitat for these birds might be outside our gardens but that does not necessarily mean they are rare; this would include the greater spotted woodpecker (5) and the green woodpecker (3). However, there are apparently 133 species of British bird that can be supported by garden bird feeders, so I am sure there is room for improvement!
Generally garden birds are doing very well across the nation with significant increases in some species like goldfinch (52) and long tailed tits (49). Migratory birds such as blackcaps (7) have only started overwintering in Britain since 1950 in part due to the abundance of garden food. The public response to feeding birds in their gardens has been so superb that it is beginning to improve the populations of these species.

The essential squirrel guard protecting the birds food

The essential squirrel guard protecting the birds food - Credit: Charles Sinclair

However, there are two species I would like to pick out that are not doing so well. One is the greenfinch (23); over the last decade their population has shrunk significantly. One of the reasons for this is a disease called Trichomonosis which they pick up in bird feeders. Residual food at the bottom of the feeders, wet with rain, often festers passing on this disease; it is important to clean feeders regularly. The other species is the song thrush (3); in my youth, at least half a century ago, a song thrush was a common sight, equal to blackbirds (70). The RSPB recorded an 81% drop in song thrush populations, their ranking has fallen nationally from 7th to 20th, (in the Sid Valley 21st). Their decline is not clearly understood, but some suggestions for helping the thrush prosper again are planting berry fruiting bushes for winter food, planting wild bird friendly field crops such as kale, and never using slug and snail poisons.

A wood pigeon sitting out a shower of rain

A wood pigeon sitting out a shower of rain - Credit: Charles Sinclair

So what is the most common garden bird in Sidmouth? It is the wood pigeon (76). This is followed by the house sparrow (72), black bird (70), goldfinch (52), blue tit (51), long tailed tit (49), robin (41), great tit (37), chaffinch (31), and greenfinch (23).
The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group will publish a garden bird report on its website in the near future at www.sidvalleybiodiversity.org.uk. In the meantime, if you are not already signed up for the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group’s mailing list, I would encourage you to contact us on sidvalleybiodiversity@yahoo.com. Likewise, if there is anyone who would be interested in further studies of local birds please let us know by email.

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