Not just birds – other wildlife is breeding early this year

Common Frog is one of several species of our garden wildlife that has emerged early this year. Photo: Charlesjsharp (commons.wikimedia.org).
Common Frog is one of several species of our garden wildlife that has emerged early this year. Photo: Charlesjsharp (commons.wikimedia.org).
The latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch reveal that much of our garden wildlife has become active extraordinarily early this year.

Results from this weekly survey make interesting reading, and highlight that some species became active a month earlier than was the case last year, when snow and cold delayed the start of spring. The forthcoming May issue of Birdwatch reports on how our breeding birds have begun nesting early this year, and how some of our summer migrants are also appearing weeks ahead of schedule. 

The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use our green spaces, and how this changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw.

The appearance of certain species is usually taken as a sign that winter is over. However, due to the unseasonally mild temperatures of earlier this year, people have been reporting some species to the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey much earlier than expected, and well before spring had truly sprung. One species that has been seen far earlier in the year than expected  is Hedgehog, the first individuals of which were being reported during late February, almost a month earlier than was the case in 2013, and up to two weeks earlier than in any of the last five years.

In contrast, amphibians such as Common Frog and Smooth Newt were not seen earlier than usual, but there appeared to be something of a mass emergence with a surge in reports from participants’ gardens. From early March, both species were seen in more Garden BirdWatch gardens than they have been for the last five years.

It was butterflies, however, that demonstrated the most dramatic patterns. Small Tortoiseshells not only came out of hibernation a couple of weeks early, they were also seen in incredible numbers compared to previous years, with 23 per cent of Garden BirdWatch participants reporting them. In comparison, the previous highest emergence peak was 12 per cent in 2012. Brimstone also had a very good start to the year, and the first few individuals were not seen much earlier this year than in previous years – the peak emergence in 2013 was just 4 per cent compared to 21 per cent of gardens reporting them in March this year.

Clare Simm, from the Garden BirdWatch team, commented: "As you can see, the survey is not just about birds. Our volunteers provide us with vital information on other wildlife too, helping us to understand how important gardens are as a habitat for all of nature. It’s too early to tell how the early emergence of these species will affect them, but it is an exciting contrast to the patterns of emergence that we saw last year."

To find out more about the BTO Garden BirdWatch, ask for a free information pack which includes a free copy of our quarterly magazine. Email gbw@bto.org, telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.
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