Starling and other bird numbers falling in Sussex gardens
Almost 600,000 people took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, counting over nine million birds.
In West Sussex over 11,000 people sent in details of their garden birds, and revealed the house sparrow has retained the county’s top spot with an average of 4.3 seen per garden.
The blue tit and starling have also clung on to their second and third places, closely followed again by the woodpigeon and blackbird.
But the RSPB says that despite there being no change in the ranking of the county’s top five species, most of them have seen their numbers drop over the last year.
Across the UK blackbird numbers were down 22 per cent on last year, likely due to milder weather which enabled them to find food out in the wider countryside rather than relying on gardens for survival.
The counts also revealed that starling numbers were at an all time low this winter, the lowest number seen since the survey began more than 30 years ago.
In the first survey in 1979, the average number of starlings seen in UK gardens was 15. This year starling figures were at their lowest ever with an average of three seen per garden, in West Sussex this was slightly lower with an average of 2.8 starlings per garden.
RSPB South East’s Samantha Stokes said: “We’ve generally noticed fewer starlings this winter, both in gardens and at some of the traditionally large roosts around the region.
“It’s thought that this may in part be the effect of the mild weather. Usually in winter, the UK’s resident starlings are joined by hundreds of thousands of starlings from northern Europe, but this year they simply may not have needed to travel as far as the UK if conditions were to their liking elsewhere in Europe.
“However, we also need to bear in mind breeding numbers of starlings are also falling and there may be fewer birds around in general.”
RSPB experts are beginning research into the decline in breeding numbers of this garden favourite. Possible reasons include changes in their feeding habitats and changes beneath the soil reducing their insect food.
The starling declines are mirrored across much of northern Europe, and because of this drop in numbers, the species is red listed as a bird of high conservation concern.
In contrast to the falling numbers of starlings, the survey revealed some birds prospering. Goldfinches are up to number seven this year. This colourful bird has been steadily increasing in UK gardens and first reached the top ten in 2008.
Without a prolonged cold snap this winter, more birds would have survived compared to the last two winters so many species should have a better start to the breeding season.
Samantha added; “Even in mild winters people see a lot of birds in their gardens. It was nine million this year, so the survey is really helpful to get a ‘snapshot’ during the winter months.
“It’s also great that so many people use Big Garden Birdwatch as an annual activity to monitor what is happening in their own gardens”
Source: Mid Sussex Times