27/11/2012
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Woodland birds charge into gardens

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Woodland birds are pouring into gardens amid reports of patchy seed and nut availability in the countryside. Eye-catching species such as Siskin, Brambling, Nuthatch, Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker are leading the way, new results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) reveal. This winter is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever for garden bird enthusiasts. Latest findings from BTO Garden BirdWatch, a year-round survey of garden wildlife, show that over 80% of our frequently spotted garden bird species have been more abundant over recent weeks compared with 2009—2011.

Most striking has been the increase of birds that we normally associate with woodland. Siskin and Brambling, both colourful and sociable members of the finch family, have been four times more numerous in gardens this autumn compared with recent years. Patchy seed availability in the countryside appears to be forcing these birds out of woodland, while birdfoods such as sunflower hearts and nyjer seed are drawing them into gardens.

Autumn 2012: garden bird winners

SpeciesIncrease this autumn (%)Main autumn foods
Siskin331Seeds
Brambling295Seeds & nuts
Nuthatch90Seeds & nuts
Jay85Seeds & nuts
Great Spotted Woodpecker66Seeds & nuts
Coal Tit62Seeds & invertebrates
Goldcrest56Invertebrates
Jackdaw53Omnivorous
Redwing51Berries & invertebrates
Rook39Omnivorous
Blackcap39Berries
Fieldfare38Berries & invertebrates
Sparrowhawk34Other birds
Black-headed Gull34Omnivorous
Woodpigeon29Seeds & berries
Feral Pigeon28Seeds & scraps
Chaffinch27Seeds & nuts
Blackbird26Berries & invertebrates
Mistle Thrush23Berries & invertebrates
Great Tit22Seeds, nuts & invertebrates

Other woodland species are also converging on garden feeders, including the trio of Nuthatch, Jay and Coal Tit. A common thread links these three species: all are known to store food during autumn — a process known as caching — to ensure that they have sufficient reserves for the winter ahead. When natural seeds and nuts are scarce, it makes sense that these species would spend more time in gardens storing food provided by householders.

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Berries also appear to be thin on the ground in parts of the countryside this autumn. In gardens, however, different fruits and berries are available owing to the presence of many native and non-native trees and shrubs. Perusing these morsels in unusually high numbers this autumn have been several members of the thrush family, most notably Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare.

Written by: BTO