Britain's smallest bird finds sanctuary in gardens


The British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) has revealed that a cold spell in late winter 2016-17 caused an influx of birds to feeders, including Goldcrests in particular.  

Winter 2016-17 was generally mild and garden feeders consequently quiet, but results from the GBFS found that more birds were making use of the supplementary food we put out during a cold snap in late January and early February. 

One of the species coming to British feeders in the colder weather was Goldcrest. In fact, Garden BirdWatchers have recorded high numbers of the species in gardens over the last two winters, with counts in February 2017 being 35 per cent higher than the average for the previous five years.

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So far this year, it looks promising for another Goldcrest garden invasion, with high preliminary counts for September. Numbers of the species are severely affected by low winter temperatures, but the predominately mild winter weather of recent years might have helped to boost numbers.

Goldcrest is an infrequent garden visitor and were only seen in an average of six per cent of gardens (average 1995-2017) during February/March, which is the peak time for garden sightings. The tiny bird, which weighs a mere 5-6 g, favours stands of conifers including garden leylandii but only tends to visit most properties in times of cold weather, when natural food sources are harder to find. Being so small means that they expend a lot of energy keeping warm, so suet-based products provided at garden feeding stations can provide a lifeline.

Claire Boothby of BTO Garden BirdWatch, noted: “It is interesting to see that our gardens are providing a sanctuary for Goldcrests when times are tough. Without the weekly observations of our Garden BirdWatchers we wouldn’t know this. Putting bird food out in our gardens really can make the difference between life and death.”