Counting cost of cold spell on Scotland’s birds

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Female, Wiltshire, England
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Female, Wiltshire, England

RSPB Scotland is asking everybody to join in its annual garden bird survey to help shed some light on how Scotland’s wildlife has fared during the worst winter for almost half a century.

The Big Garden Birdwatch returns on January 29 and 30 and the charity is hoping for record numbers of participants to help document responses to the Big Freeze.

Dr Paul Walton, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Habitats and Species, said: “We cannot be certain of the prolonged cold spells impacts on Scotland’s birdlife.

“We do know December was one of the coldest on record and that many species exhibited stressed behaviour, struggling to find food during the freezing temperatures.”

For almost all of December, Scotland faced sub-zero temperatures. The bitter conditions raised fears that many of our well-known species were at risk of starvation as natural food sources succumbed to the snow and ice.

During these harsh conditions many garden birds have been forced to rely on food and water kindly provided by humans, but there is little clue as to how many survived the cold spell.

Now in its 32nd year, the Big Garden Birdwatch provides RSPB Scotland with a ‘snapshot’ picture of garden bird numbers in each region of the country and can help highlight any worrying declines.

Dr Walton continue: “It’s likely small bodied birds will have been hit hard. These birds all have high metabolic rates and therefore need to feed constantly to ensure they have enough energy to survive the bitter nights.

“Fortunately, these populations can bounce back during the breeding season if habitat and feeding conditions are good.

“We hope the Big Garden Birdwatch 2011 will be another record breaking year so we’re encouraging as many people as possible to take part. The more results we have, the better chance we have of spotting any worrying trends.

“Everyone can contribute to gathering this information – while at the same time having fun and enjoying the wildlife that visits their gardens.”

2010 saw a record breaking 37,000 Scots count the birds feeding in their gardens. Each spent just an hour of their time noting which species could be spotted.

The survey is a fun, simple and easy way to learn how Scotland’s birds are doing during the cold snap, and it can all be done from the comfort of your home.

For more information about the Big Garden Birdwatch 2011, visit