Greenfinch populations, which were previously in steep decline in the UK, are showing the first signs of recovery, according to the latest annual RSPB big garden birdwatch results.
The citizen science survey gives a good idea of how bird populations are faring in Britain. This year almost 700,000 people took part, counting more than 11 million birds.
Many scientists and bird enthusiasts have been worried about the greenfinch, which has experienced a population crash of 63% since 1993 after a severe outbreak of trichomonosis. The little finch was put on the red list last year, signalling it was at risk.
This year, however, there has been a small increase in greenfinch sightings, raising hopes for the recovery of the species. The deadly infection is spread through contaminated food and drinking water, or by birds feeding one another with regurgitated food during the breeding season.
Garden owners can help slow transmission rates by temporarily stopping the provision of food if ill birds are seen and making sure that garden bird feeders are cleaned regularly.
Another bird that fared well was the jay, a colorful acorn-eating corvid with bright blue and peach plumage. It moved up nine places in the RSPB’s rankings of most seen birds to number 23, an increase of 73% compared to 2021 numbers.
The RSPB’s chief executive, Beccy Speight, said: “We do not know the reasons for the sudden increase in jay sightings this year. It may be down to food availability as we have reports that last year was poor for acorns. Whatever the reason, a sighting of this stunning bird is enough to raise one’s spirits any day of the year, let alone on a gloomy January weekend.
“It’s been brilliant to see so many people taking part again this year, taking time out to watch and reconnect with birds and then generously submit their sightings to help RSPB scientists gain some insight into how our garden birds are faring.”
The top three birds from last year held their positions: the house sparrow remained at the top of rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird, with more than 1.7 million recorded sightings throughout the weekend. Blue tit and starling remained in the number two and three positions respectively.
The bird that fared worst compared to last year was the long-tailed tit, which was seen 23.6% less than in 2021. The fuzzy little bird, which weaves its nest from cobwebs and lichen, suffers during cold snaps and is prone to unsuccessful breeding years.
Big garden birdwatch – the top 10 birds
1. House sparrow
2. Blue tit
4. Wood pigeon
8. Great tit