Winners and Losers

Last week the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) released the latest updates of the UK and England bird indicators based on population trends of wild birds last week and it’s latest BirdTrends Report. The indicators are part of the government’s suite of biodiversity indicators and show how the fortunes of birds of farmland, woodland, waterways and wetlands, and marine and coastal areas have fared between 1970 and 2017.

As has been the case for several years these indicators show winners and losers among our wild bird populations. Of the species covered 26 are showing long-term declines including several species familiar to garden birdwatchers such as Mistle Thrush, House Sparrow and Lesser Redpoll. One of the most worrying declines affects our Greenfinches, numbers of this once familiar garden visitor have now declined so low that it qualifies to be ‘red-listed’. The red-list designation is a rating that shows it to be ‘endangered’. The decline in Greenfinches is attributable to widespread and severe outbreak of trichomonosis, which affects the upper digestive tract, that began in 2005. Prior to this their numbers had actually increased. It highlights how important feeder hygiene is and should act as a reminder to all of us to clean our feeders regularly.

On a more positive note many species are showing very positive trends, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches for example, are all showing population growth over the periods measured (22-49 years). It’s interesting to speculate that many of the species showing population growth are ones that take advantage of garden bird food such as Suets, Seed Mixes and Straights. Is it that these species are generally just more adaptable at exploiting new food resources such as garden bird feeders or is it that the range of food we offer suits certain species better and affords them greater protection from food scarcity?

This latest report made me think about how I use my garden, is it enough just to put out food? Our gardens can offer a little respite from a countryside dowsed in pesticides and in places devoid of cover. If we plant sensitively it’s possible to offer more than just the food we put out, native trees provide berries and insect food at crucial times of the year to many species. A wildflower mix or an area of long grass can do the same, ponds can provide water for bathing and drinking.


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.