Belfast Telegraph

How our gardens helped small birds survive the bitter winter

Small birds suffered badly during Northern Ireland’s worst winter in 30 years — with numbers plummeting badly.

And many of our bird species would have struggled even worse if it hadn’t been for the gardens they relied upon for survival, according to the RSPB.

The world’s biggest bird survey revealed that birds turned to gardens, probably because they were warmer and people were putting out food.

RSPB spokeswoman Stephanie Sim said: “As always, the results for RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch in Northern Ireland make interesting reading. Numbers of our larger common garden birds were actually up, with the smaller ones significantly down.

“Also, birds were seen in more gardens, probably because they were relying on them for food as they were warmer — and people were putting out food for them.

“This year, as last year, the number one bird was the starling, but more of them were seen in more gardens this year. The same goes for our blackbird, chaffinch and even goldfinch.

“This is because gardens, with their proximity to houses, are warmer, allowing for better foraging opportunities — of course, feeding birds pulled them in too.”

Redwings and fieldfares were spotted in seven per cent of the gardens that took part — massively up on the two per cent in 2009. Goldfinches reached fifth place in Northern Ireland, compared to 10th in the rest of the UK.

“People adore their goldfinches because they look so striking and exotic, so they put special food out for them,” Stephanie said.

“This year, though, they were really abundant and it isn’t unusual to hear people say that they saw dozens on their feeders. The harsh winter may have pushed them westwards and, of course, we end up with all these gorgeous creatures. The numbers of coal tits, long-tailed tit, goldcrest and even the blue tit and chaffinch all fell. Even though it was expected, it is still hard to take as we feel so sorry for these wee mites.”

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