By CHRIS HILL
, Rural affairs correspondent
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The desperate search for a meal during the bitter cold snap has driven an increasing number of East Anglia’s birds out of the countryside – and into our gardens.
Freezing temperatures have made natural food supplies very scarce, particularly in the last two weeks when a blanket of snow covered fields, trees and hedgerows.
So the RSPB says hungry birds have increasingly relied on sustenance provided in domestic feeders and bird tables – bringing a greater diversity of wildlife to people’s back yards.
The charity expects this to be reflected in the results of its Big Garden Birdwatch survey, which saw more than half a million people spending an hour counting the species of birds in parks and gardens at the weekend.
Last year, almost 80,000 people took part in East Anglia, and it is hoped that the number of amateur bird-spotters in the region could have topped 100,000 this year.
Erica Howe, of the RSPB in the Eastern region, said: “The snow itself and the cold weather has had a significant impact on the birds coming into people’s gardens.
“This time of year is fantastic for people if they are feeding their garden birds. You see many more slightly-rarer species coming when it is colder, because there is less food available in their natural environment. Birds like fieldfare and redwing can be seen, and some people have seen woodcocks or great spotted woodpeckers. All kinds of birds flock into your gardens at this time of year.”
The RSPB birdwatch, now in its 34th year, has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in the populations of UK garden birds.
Since the first survey in 1979, the number of starlings reported has dropped by 80pc, while house sparrow numbers have fallen by two thirds.
Paul Forecast, RSPB director in the East, said: “The declines of birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years or so have been alarming, but Big Garden Birdwatch has helped us find out more about their numbers and distribution across UK gardens, and that has been the first step in helping to put things right.”
Some bird species have fared considerably better over the years. Sightings of popular species like blue tits, great tits and coal tits in gardens have increased since 1979.
Goldfinches, which were absent from the Big Garden Birdwatch top 15 in the early years, have featured regularly as a top 15 species since 2004.
To help birds survive the remainder of the winter, the RSPB advises keeping garden bird feeders and tables full of high-energy, calorie-rich foods like nyjer seed, fatballs, suet sprinkles, sunflower seed and peanuts. Leftovers and kitchen scraps, like mild grated cheese, rice and porridge oats, can also be used.
The Big Garden Birdwatch weekend took place across the region’s parks and gardens on January 26 and 27. Full results are due in the spring. Meanwhile, a similar survey will take place in school grounds as part of Big Schools’ Birdwatch until February 1.
For more information, see www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch.