RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results: Robins, starlings and blackbirds joined by more unusual visitors

Post date: 
30 Mar 2017 - 11:15
Member News

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results: Robins, starlings and blackbirds joined by more unusual visitors

  • UK gardens have seen a boom in the number of visits from unusual migrant birds such as waxwings
  • Number of robins seen visiting gardens at its highest level for more than 20 years
  • In excess of 497,000 people took part in the 2017 Birdwatch counting over 8 million birds


Over 11, 000 people in Cambridgeshire joined nearly half-a-million people across the UK in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.

In Cambridgeshire, there was no change to the top three. House sparrows held on to the top, being seen in 71% of gardens during the survey, despite having decreased nationally by 57% since 1979. Starlings were another non-mover remaining in second place, although there was a 27% rise in the number of gardens starlings were seen in.

Blackbirds remained third in the rankings, being seen in a whopping 97% of gardens making them the most widespread bird in the county.

The event held over the last weekend in January also revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that within the region waxwings were seen in around 5 times more gardens in 2017 compared to previous years.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds. In the East there were 5 times as many redwing and fieldfare seen and an 18% increase in sightings of brambling as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.  

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientists, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.

“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. 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 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”

There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb from number ten to number eight in Cambridgeshire and two places to number seven nationally, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden  Birdwatch rankings. Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three in the East and becoming the region’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 96% of gardens.

The survey also highlighted a downturn in Cambridgeshire in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-15%), great tits (-13%) and coal tits (-25%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”

This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds. 

Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. 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.”

The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children – 1, 200 of whom took part in Cambridgeshire - spend an hour in nature counting birds. The blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession nationally, and over 95% of schools in Cambridgeshire spotted at least one.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens and outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.

For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results –