Mass ‘twitcher’ survey to record rare breeds starving in big freeze

RSPB’s ‘Big Garden  Birdwatch’ this weekend is expected to be most exciting for years

The cold weather is about to disappear, but its remnants may still turn this weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the RSPB’s annual festival for amateur observers which is the biggest “citizen science” exercise in the world, into one of the most interesting ever, as the freeze has been forcing more uncommon birds into gardens in search of food.

Waxwings, siskins, redpolls and fieldfares are among the less everyday species which may join house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and blue tits in the gardens of many of the 600,000 or so people likely to take part today and tomorrow.

“We’re urging people to pay particular attention to their gardens and their feeders this weekend,” said RSPB spokesman Graham Madge. “A variety of quite unusual birds are coming into gardens from the countryside that are desperately short of food.”

Today the cold snap is expected to end with flooding replacing heavy snow as the major weather problem, especially in the south, as heavy rain moves in and rising temperatures spark a rapid thaw of the built-up snow.

Temperatures will steadily increase from today before reaching more than 10C in the south tomorrow, followed by wet and windy weather next week. But in one last burst of cold, heavy snow was anticipated over northern areas last night, with a large part of Scotland, northern England and possibly the north Midlands expected to have more than 10cm (4in) of snow by this morning. Anyone can join in the Big Garden Birdwatch by spending one hour over the weekend, and noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time. Running for the last 34 years, it is the biggest wildlife survey in the world, and has made a major contribution to tracking garden bird numbers over the winter.

The top 10 commonest birds in British gardens from the 2012 survey were, in order: house sparrow, starling, blue tit, blackbird, chaffinch, woodpigeon, goldfinch, great tit, robin and collard dove.  But this weekend there is a real chance, Mr Madge said, of also spotting birds like the waxwing, a plump, crested, brownish and starling-sized songbird from Scandinavia, which this winter is visiting Britain in higher numbers than it has for 40 years.

Similarly, he said, there is a chance of seeing striking and less common finches, such as siskins and redpolls, driven into gardens by the frost. A very likely possibility is another Scandinavian visitor, the fieldfare, a plump and colourful member of the thrush family, which has been seen in many gardens recently.

More thrushes to watch out for include the fieldfare’s Scandinavian cousin, the redwing, as well as the song thrush and mistle thrush – this last the subject of an alert from the RSPB, who warned this week that it is dropping seriously in numbers.

Winging in: rare sights

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

A gaudy visitor from Scandinavia, above, sometimes arriving in large “irruptions” – as happened this year.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

A charming green, yellow and black finch whose normal home is the high tops of pine trees, now increasingly visiting gardens.

Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

A streaked finch with a scarlet cap, a winter visitor from northern forests, but driven into gardens by hunger.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

A big thrush from Norway, now leaving the fields for bird tables in search of food.

Mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

One of our two resident thrushes (the other being the song thrush), its numbers have dropped alarmingly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before