THE number of robins visiting gardens hit a 20-year high in this winter’s Big Garden Birdwatch, conservationists said.
Average numbers of the charismatic robin seen in gardens were up to their highest levels since 1986, making it the seventh most commonly seen bird in the citizen science survey in January.
UK gardens also saw a “waxwing winter” with a huge number of the unusual migrant birds which flocked to the country from Scandinavia in search of food, the results from more than 497,000 people who took part in the survey showed.
Waxwings arrive in the UK in large numbers once every seven to eight years when the berry crop fails in Scandinavia in what is known as an “irruption”, and were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 than in the last couple of years.
The birds, which have a dusky pink colouring with a black strip across the eye and a punk-like crest were seen as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland, Birdwatch organisers RSPB said.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries.
“With it only happening once every seven to eight years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”
There was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling as sub zero temperatures on the continent forced them towards the UK’s milder conditions.
Along with robins, blackbirds also had a good year, rising to third in the Birdwatch rankings and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird, spotted in 93% of gardens.
But there was a downturn in sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits, thought to be the result of prolonged wet weather in the 2016 breeding season which led to fewer young birds surviving so fewer were seen in the winter.
The sparrow and starling remained in first and second place in the rankings for the most commonly seen birds, and both species saw an upturn in numbers compared to last year, although they have both suffered long-term declines.
The RSPB said the results showed the positive effects of wildlife-friendly gardens, with recorded sightings increasing for 16 of the top 20 species between 2016 and 2017.
Claire Thomas, RSPB wildlife advisor, said: “Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter.
“If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.”
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