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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results reveal a golden year for the goldfinch in Cumbria

Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, male. Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

[T]he latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a golden year for the goldfinch along with a number of other small birds after a surge in sightings in gardens across Cumbria.

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 450,000 people across the country, including over 6,600 in Cumbria took part.

The event held over the last weekend in January, revealed an increase in sightings of smaller birds, such as goldfinches, great tits and coal tits that can usually be seen visiting gardens and outside spaces in mixed flocks. Recorded sightings of the brightly coloured, sociable finch rose by over 1% on 2017 figures for Cumbria and its bright red face was seen in more than a third of gardens in the county. Other small birds that are thought to have benefited from the mild January weather include great tits (+3%), and blue tits (+1%). Bucking the national trend, robin sightings were up in Cumbria too (+8%), compared to -12% nationally.

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 early winter weather in the run up to the Birdwatch in January, 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 goldfinches, long-tailed tits and coal tits, along with chaffinches and greenfinches nationally, 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 saw in their garden.”

The survey also highlighted a dip in the number of recorded sightings of blackbirds (-14%) and greenfinches (-10%) on last year’s figures for Cumbria. Dr Hayhow explained: “We all will have noticed that the weather earlier in the winter was slightly warmer than we’re used 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 nationally.”

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden birds with an average of almost six per garden recorded in Cumbria throughout the weekend. Starling was in second spot, with the blue tit rounding off 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 survey of birds in school grounds saw over 780 school children in Cumbria spend an hour in nature counting the birds. Despite a drop in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings, the blackbird remain top of the Big Schools Birdwatch rankings with one being spotted in 85% of schools in the county.

For a full round up of all the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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