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Biggest-ever influx

…of one of the UK's smallest garden birds

This November, Coal Tits were seen in over 70% of gardens, according to figures from the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Cold weather or a lack of tree seeds in the wider countryside may be behind the rise in sightings

Coal Tit
Coal Tit ©Aidan Tidman

Participants in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch survey have been keeping weekly records of the birds seen in their gardens over the last 20 years, an incr­­­edible citizen science project that enables us understand how birds use human habitats such as gardens. Coal Tits are among our smallest garden birds, and are often driven away from bird feeders by the larger, more aggressive Great Tits and Blue Tits. They have a habit of darting to a feeder, quickly taking a seed and hiding it in moss or a crevice to eat later. Coal Tits can be recognised by their striking black-and-white striped heads, and by their overall brown and grey plumage, with none of the yellow or blue colour seen in Great Tits and Blue Tits.

In the summer Coal Tits normally remain within woodland, and are recorded in fewer than a third of gardens. In the winter they ­are seen in more gardens, and are generally recorded by at least 40% of Garden BirdWatchers in November, when they are driven to garden bird feeders by cold weather. However, in some years they are seen in many more gardens, and research using GBW data has shown that their presence is affected by seasonal availability of tree seed crops in the wider countryside. This year is turning out to be exceptional, with Coal Tit seen in an unprecedented 70% of gardens in November!

Over 11,000 Garden BirdWatchers will be watching and recording their garden birds this winter and into the future. This allows us to understand patterns of garden use and see long-term changes and trends.

Claire Boothby, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer at the British Trust for Ornithology, said “We know from our research that the food and water provided in gardens can be a lifeline, particularly at times of cold weather and reduced natural food. With all this activity and more cold weather forecast, it is a great time to start paying more attention to the bird life in your garden, and we urge everyone who watches their garden birds to regularly record though Garden BirdWatch.

This is the perfect time to join Garden BirdWatch ready for 2018, or sign up a friend or family member as a Christmas gift. New joiners in December will receive a book on garden birds and wildlife and, for a limited time only, the BTO 2018 calendar, which is marked with Garden BirdWatch weeks and other bird survey dates. To find out more, please contact us by email, visit our Website or call us on 01842 750050 (Mon-Fri 9am-5:00pm).

Paul Stancliffe BTO

7th December 2017