Out in the cold – winter migrants flock to gardens

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris eating an apple in a snowy garden. Pic: Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris eating an apple in a snowy garden. Pic: Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)

THE recent cold weather could be behind a rise in the number of winter migrants appearing in Scottish gardens.

And RSPB is urging people to look out for sightings of species such as redwing, fieldfare, brambling and waxwings, when they take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, January 26th and 27th).

Last year over 53,000 Scots took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, each spending one hour recording the birds that visit their gardens or local parks.

The results are used to help build a picture of garden bird populations across the UK.

As snow and ice covers much of the country, birds that normally feed on invertebrates or berries, can be driven into gardens in their search for food.

And the conservation charity believes this could result in an increase in sightings of these species, which start looking for food and water provided by humans.

Keith Morton of RSPB Scotland said: “Sudden changes in the weather can be difficult for birds, particularly as until now it has been fairly mild.

“Species such as fieldfares, brambling and redwing arrive in Scotland from Scandinavia in the winter and are often spotted feeding on berries, so to hear that they appear to be struggling to find food naturally is concerning.

“Fortunately, these usually shy birds will use gardens in bad weather and make use of the extra help provided by humans to get enough energy to endure the freezing winter nights.”

Mr Morton added: “It will be interesting to see if those taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch notice an increase in these colourful birds.

“The survey is a fun and easy way to learn more about local wildlife, whilst at the same time contributing to an important piece of ‘citizen science’.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is open to everyone. Participants can join in by spending just one hour at any time over this weekend, noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time then submitting the results to the RSPB.

School-children and teachers will be doing the same in their school grounds as part of the Big Schools’ Birdwatch between now and Friday, February 1st.

Since its creation in 1979, the annual survey has helped monitor garden bird numbers across the country, highlighting any worrying trends or concerning changes in population.

Hitting the top spot of most species recorded per garden last year was the humble Sparrow, swopping places from 2011 with the Chaffinch which now takes the number two spot.

From there the top 10 recorded bird species in 2012 runs as: Starling; Blue Tit; Blackbird; Great Tit; Woodpigeon; Coal Tit; Robin, and Goldfinch.

For more information and advice for looking after wildlife in the winter visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch