Belfast Telegraph

House sparrows top of the tree in Northern Ireland

...but sightings of 15 species are down as RSPB unveils results of garden birdwatch

House sparrow
House sparrow
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

House sparrows remain Northern Ireland's most commonly-seen bird.

The results of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a mixed picture for the UK's birdlife, with 15 of the top 20 species returning fewer sightings in gardens than in 2018.

House sparrows remain perched at the top of the rankings in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but for many species the numbers are in decline.

Now in its 40th year, the event is a chance for people of all ages to count the birds that visit their garden for an hour, helping to give the RSPB a picture of how they are doing.

This year, nearly half a million people in the UK took part, counting 7.5 million birds - with almost 14,000 people in Northern Ireland counting just under 120,000 birds.

There was one new entry in the top 10 in Northern Ireland, with coal tits replacing collared doves in the list. The top five stayed unchanged from last year, with house sparrows followed by starlings, chaffinches, goldfinches and blue tits.

House sparrows were also the county leaders in Antrim, Down and Londonderry, while starlings, the Northern Ireland number one in 2017, were the most-spotted birds in Armagh and Tyrone, and the chaffinch was chief in Fermanagh. Some of the less common birds seen across Northern Ireland included great spotted woodpeckers, yellowhammers, sparrowhawks, goldcrests and fieldfares.

The Birdwatch, held over the last weekend in January, revealed a fall in sightings of wrens and long-tailed tits, two of the smallest species to visit our gardens. Long-tailed tit sightings fell by 28% and wrens by 17% in 2019, after being counted in particularly large numbers in 2018.

"Populations of both species may have been affected by last year's 'Beast from the East' as small birds are more susceptible to spells of cold weather," said Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist. "It's still too early to say if this is a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend."

House sparrows remained top of the rankings, with more than 1.2 million recorded sightings across the UK throughout the weekend. In addition, the RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch saw almost 7,000 children taking part in 103 schools across Northern Ireland. The blackbird was the most commonly seen species with an average of eight per school. Starlings and black-headed gulls were second and third.

RSPB NI director Joanne Sherwood said: "It's fantastic to see that house sparrows are the number one bird spotted here and to find out that they're in 71% of gardens in Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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