It’s a golden year for the goldfinch! Delight as garden bird’s numbers soar

PUBLISHED: 10:17 31 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:03 31 March 2018

Goldfinches. Photo: Liz Murton

Goldfinches. Photo: Liz Murton

(c) copyright

Although it is just a little creature, its bright colours and liquid, twittering song make it pretty much unmistakable.

Goldfinch at Cley marsh. Picture: David ThackerGoldfinch at Cley marsh. Picture: David Thacker

And thankfully nature lovers are this year spotting ever more goldfinches in our back gardens and public spaces, pointing to a surge in the species’ population.

The most recent RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, held January 27-29, has revelled 2018 is shaping up to be a golden year for the goldfinch - particularly in Norfolk - where sightings of the species were up 17pc on last year’s figures.

And other small bird sightings are also up across Nelson’s County. Around 26pc more coal tits were spotted at this year’s Birdwatch over 2017, as were 4pc more blue tits and 1pc more long-tailed tits.

The goldfinch’s bright red face was seen in 40pc of gardens during the RSPB event.

A chaffinch at Corners Nurseries at Hoe. Picture: Matthew Usher.A chaffinch at Corners Nurseries at Hoe. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Expert ornithologists think the figures are due to favourable conditions during last year’s breeding season, along with mild autumn and winter weather in the run-up to the Birdwatch.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “Our garden birds are a part of our everyday life, whether it’s the robin perched on the garden fence or the flock of starlings you see on your way to work.

“To have hundreds of thousands of people spend an hour watching the wildlife in their garden isn’t only great to see, but it also helps us build up a picture of how our garden birds are doing, which is really helpful.

“Last summer was a really good year for many breeding birds with warm weather creating great conditions for many smaller birds to raise their young to adulthood.”

A beautiful female Blackbird. Picture: Anne MarksA beautiful female Blackbird. Picture: Anne Marks

Mr Haylow said it was likely the warmer-than-normal autumn and winter made it easier for these birds to find food such as insects in our gardens, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.

He said: “The rise in sightings of goldfinch, long-tailed tit and coal tit, along with chaffinches and greenfinches, goes to show that in the absence of cold weather they can survive the winter months in good numbers. Looking at the results it is likely that across the UK this is what people are seeing in their garden.”

The UK-wide bird survey saw more than 1,000 children in Norfolk spend an hour counting birds during school time, and more than 10,000 people in the county took part in the event overall.

Our feathered friends

A Collared dove. Picture: RICHARD WOODHOUSE.A Collared dove. Picture: RICHARD WOODHOUSE.

According to the results of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the most common bird in Norfolk gardens was the house sparrow.

The next most common birds were the blackbird, starling, woodpigeon, blue tit, goldfinch, collared dove, long-tailed tit, green tit and chaffinch.

It also proved to be a good year for the greenfinch after an 11pc rise in sightings across the county, a welcome sign for a species that has undergone a 60pc decline in UK sightings since the first survey in 1979.

Birds that saw a decrease in numbers included blackbirds (down 18pc), robins (down 12pc) and wrens (down 16pc) on last year’s figures.

A house sparrow. Picture: Robina ChurchyardA house sparrow. Picture: Robina Churchyard

But despite the drop in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings, the blackbird remained top of the Big Schools Birdwatch rankings with one being spotted in 88pc of schools – a 22pc increase on 2017.

Dr Hayhow said robins and wrens did not have a good breeding season in 2017.

A welcome visitor

The goldfinch is a highly coloured finch with a bright red face and yellow patches on its wings.

A great tit. . Picture: Julie KempA great tit. . Picture: Julie Kemp

They are sociable birds which often breed in loose colonies and are known for their delightful song.

They have long, fine beaks which allow them to extract otherwise inaccessible seeds from thistles and teasels.

Goldfinches are increasingly visiting bird tables and feeders.

In winter many goldfinches migrate as far south as Spain. Males and females are very similar, but females have a slightly smaller red area on the face.

A long tailed tit at Lakenheath fen. Picture: Matthew LastA long tailed tit at Lakenheath fen. Picture: Matthew Last

Goldfinches have been a welcome sight in Britain for decades. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer even described a character with the words: “Gaily dressed he was as is a goldfinch in the woods”.

There are estimated to be 1.2 million breeding pairs in the UK.

For more information about the goldfinch, visit

This little Blue Tit looking its best as it nears the breeding season.This little Blue Tit looking its best as it nears the breeding season.

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