Birdwatchers confirm plight of starlings and sparrows

A A A

More than 250,000 people – twice the expected number – participated in the biggest mass birdwatch in the gardens, parks and schoolgrounds of Britain at the end of January.

More than 250,000 people – twice the expected number – participated in the biggest mass birdwatch in the gardens, parks and schoolgrounds of Britain at the end of January.

But the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch provided a depressing reminder of the continuing decline of Britain's most common birds, the starling and the house sparrow.

Although more of these species were spotted – 700,000 and 673,000 respectively - well ahead of the blue tit in the No 3 spot on 455,000, the survey shows starling numbers have dropped by 70 per cent and house sparrows by 57 per cent since 1979. Both are candidates for the official red list of species of conservation concern. Garden Birdwatch, organised annually for the past 23 years by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has monitored their decline.

The figures tally with the evidence produced by The Independent's two-year campaign to find a cause for the sparrow slump, particularly in urban centres, their former strongholds. In a classic example, in Kensington Gardens, London, only 12 were counted in the summer of 2000, compared with 2,603 in 1925.

Also in the summer of 2000, checks in the centre of Sunderland found only eight sparrows – yet in the RSPB survey 56 were counted in one garden just five miles away at the village of Whitburn, highlighting the stark contrast between city centres and semi-rural areas on their outskirts. Richard Bashford, the survey co-ordinator, said such results confirmed the disappearance of sparrows from population centres.

Despite the bad news, he was delighted with the response of the public. "More than a quarter of a million people was far beyond what we hoped to achieve – it was a fantastic response, demonstrating the extent of public interest in birds. Also with over 4 million birds counted nationally, it shows how important gardens are to wildlife – add them all together and we have a quite considerable nature reserve."

Unlike sparrows and starlings, some species are increasing in numbers. The garden populations of collared doves – which only colonised Britain in the 1950s – were the seventh most commonly seen species and the woodpigeon ninth. Populations have increased by 500 per cent since the survey began. Milder winters are given as the reason for the 150 per cent increase in the numbers of wrens since 1979.

Blackbirds were found to be the most widespread UK garden birds, cropping up in 89 per cent of all gardens, and other similar areas, covered by the survey. However, the distribution maps show lower numbers in more westerly and southerly parts of the country – probably a reflection of greater breeding success in eastern regions.

Most common garden birds

1) Starling: More than 700,000 counted but the starling population is down by 70 per cent since 1979.

2) House sparrow: 673,000. Numbers have fallen almost as sharply as starling (57 per cent).

3) Blue tit: 455,000. Found to be in particular decline in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

4) Blackbird: Spotted the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. 411,000 recorded.

5) Chaffinch: Commonest garden bird in Scotland, seen relatively infrequently in England. Total sightings 369,000.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering