As expected, small birds struggled to survive the big freeze: long tailed tits, who had prospered over a succession of mild winters, dropped by 27% compared to last year, when they made the top ten for the first time. The biggest decline was in goldcrest sightings – down by 75%. Losses would have been worse without the tremendous response to calls for keeping bird tables well stocked.
Another effect of the hard winter was a movement of countryside birds into gardens in their search for food. Sightings of redwings increased by 185%, fieldfares by 73% and song thrushes by 51%. Yellowhammers and bullfinches were also more frequent garden visitors. Continue reading Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch
One of the Guardian’s editorials today is entitled In praise of… feeding birds in winter:
Feeding birds this month offers a rare chance to see redpolls, yellowhammers and tree sparrows among the robins, finches and tits that more often make up backyard populations. It will also keep them alive. Read
The RSPB says countryside birds are increasingly moving into towns because the big freeze has meant food is harder to find. They include on their list bitterns! More as well as herons and woodcocks. More
According to latest figures from the BTO, forty species have been turning to gardens for food with greater frequency during the current snowy weather, with particularly large increases in thrushes and buntings. Reed Buntings have increased by 134 per cent and Yellowhammers by 80 per cent. More
Guardian slideshow Birds spotted in the big freeze
See also Unusual birds in the garden
Photo by VickySings on Flickr
Freezing temperatures aren’t all bad for British wildlife, perfectly adapted to long, cold winters, which until recently were the norm. Cold weather helps to “restore the balance of nature”:
- Hibernating creatures (bats, butterflies, bumblebees etc) are less likely to emerge and then get killed off by a cold snap, as has happened in the past few mild winters
- Birds are unlikely to start nesting too early (again, as happens in mild winters)
- Flowers are less likely to emerge and then get killed off by late frosts
- Viruses, parasites etc are killed off, which will benefit their hosts. (Again, mild winters tend to allow disease vectors to multiply)
In contrast mild winters such as those we’ve seen between 1986 and 2008 bring about:
- Early emergence of flowers and insects
- Early breeding of many birds (sometimes before Christmas).
- ‘Summer visitors’ overwintering (eg chiffchaff)
- A major fall in numbers of winter visitors (eg Bewick’s swan and white-fronted goose), as birds stay further east of the UK.
From the BBC’s Snow Watch
Snow Watch are also collecting wildlife stories from people from around the UK. Read them here.
I thought this post by John White was interesting:
We do have a visiting barn owl but have not seen or heard him for some weeks. We have had visiting redpolls and fieldfares taking all the holly berries. Interestingly there have been very few starlings and sparrows around, and a very plump pheasant is missing. I must admit that we do not encourage the larger birds i.e. rooks, crows, jackdaws and magpies, but they still come. It seems that the three squirrels that live in the holly tree have decided to keep warm in their dray, and have not put in an appearance for days. Badgers have taken to the compost for food. They were very active in the autumn feeding off of our fallen fruits and digging up the gardens for slugs etc. Swans and geese that frequent the reservoirs and canals seem to be staying put.
The RSPB has warned that British wildlife is facing an emergency in the face of the longest period of freezing weather for almost 28 years and the prospect of it continuing well into next week. Birds are most affected as they are finding it impossible to feed, as the ground and many water bodies are frozen solid.
Mark Avery, the RSPB’s director of conservation described the situation as “a wildlife emergency… The long frozen period is even beginning to resemble the winter of 1962-63, which did more damage to Britain’s birds than anything else in our lifetimes.” At the end of that winter, the coldest in the UK in the 20th century, many populations of common birds such as wrens had plummeted to tiny levels, and rare birds were hit even harder: when spring 1963 came, only 11 pairs of Dartford warblers were left in England.
As a result the RSPB is appealing to people everywhere to put out food for birds in their gardens, but it is also going further: for the first time it is attempting emergency feeding for three rare and recovering species: Dartford warbler, found on heathlands, which will be fed on mealworms left on low-level bird tables in Suffolk and Dorset; the cirl bunting, found on farmland in south Devon, which will be fed on grain; and the bittern, to be fed on sprats. More here from The Independent
Meanwhile The Telegraph reports a remarkable 140% increase in sales of wild bird feed at Tescos as Britons pile their bird table high. And finally the RSPB is calling on everyone who enjoys being out in the countryside to take extra care not to disturb flocks of wildfowl and wading birds, during this exceptionally cold spell. Birdwatch