North East garden birdwatch results show wrens were the most seen garden birds

Winners and losers in the region's gardens in 2014 are revealed in a report by the British Trust for Ornithology

One of the little egret chicks is ringed
One of the little egret chicks is ringed

Harsh winters can hit small birds like wrens particularly hard as they struggle to cope with low temperatures and a lack of food, leading to a sharp fall in numbers by spring.

But thanks to last year’s relatively mild winter, wrens had a bumper breeding season in the North East this year.

According to the results of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch this year, wrens were seen in the highest proportion of North East garden since 2007 at 57.4%.

BTO Garden BirdWatch started in 1995 and has been funded by its participants since the beginning, who pay a small subscription fee to take part - currently £17.

In exchange they receive a book on garden birds and wildlife and a quarterly magazine.

The survey initially involved birds, but other wildlife was added as an option in 2003.

Through their weekly observations, participants keep a simple record of which species are using their gardens.

This data is then analysed by BTO scientists to help studies into why and how birds use gardens.

The BTO’s Alex Rhodes says: “Thanks to the fantastic effort of members of the public contributing weekly observations to the Garden BirdWatch scheme, we can keep an eye on what’s happening and look further into patterns that need exploring. If you enjoy watching birds in your garden, you too can add to this vital information.”

One of the little egret chicks in the nest
One of the little egret chicks in the nest

Winners in the North East results for 2014 are:

* Blackbird – seen in more gardens this autumn than last with a low of 73% in autumn 2014 against 68% in autumn 2013. It was a productive breeding season for blackbirds.

* Coal tit – started off the year in average number of gardens, but from the summer were seen in more gardens than in 2013, probably due to a successful breeding season.

* Dunnock – seen in the highest number of gardens this autumn since 2004, peaking at 91.8% in 2014. Potentially due to a combination of a decent breeding season and mild weather throughout the year, meaning there were more invertebrates for them to feed on.

* Great tit – seen in more gardens this summer than in the last two years, thanks to above average breeding success.

* House sparrow – seen in more gardens than in the last two years, despite not having a great breeding season. The peak was 79.3% in June 2014 compared to 71.9% in June 2013 and 2012.

Also seen in more gardens in early winter – peak of 72% in early November 2014, against 59% in November 2013.

* Robin – had a good year overall, across the country. At the end of August was seen in 88.5% of region’s gardens against 71.3% in August 2013, and at the beginning of October was up to 91.8%.

* Tree sparrow – seen in the highest proportion of gardens ever in the area, peaking in November 2014 at 28%.


* Collared dove and greenfinch continued to decline in 2014, as in most of the country.

* Goldfinch – it would appear that the steady increase of goldfinches has stabilised, potentially due to poor breeding recorded in both 2012 and 2013.The 2014 low was 39% in August 2014, against 42.7% in August 2013.

* Song Thrush – still declining across gardens in the UK, and started off in low proportion of gardens in the region.

For a free BTO Garden BirdWatch information pack, which includes a copy of the quarterly magazine, contact, telephone 01842 750050, or write to Garden BirdWatch, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

* A highlight of the year in Northumberland was the fledging of little egret chicks, marking a first for the county.

The adult pair of birds, a graceful heron species, nested on the Druridge Pools Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

The little egret has colonised the UK from France as it has naturally extended its breeding range.

It first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989, and bred in Dorset in 1996. There are now about 700 nesting pairs across the country.

The Northumberland birds were discovered by local birdwatcher Iain Robson, who visits the Druridge Bay reserve most days.

He says: “It was just a matter of time before little egrets were confirmed to have bred in the county, given the rapid expansion of the population across the UK. “

Meanwhile, an Arctic tern checked on the Farne Islands in Northumberland had just recorded its 31st birthday.

The bird, with flecks of grey on its head, was found to have been ringed as a chick on the Farne Islands on July 11, 1983.

David Steel, head warden on the islands, says: “ We know from bird ringing recoveries and recent studies that these birds spend the winter off the pack ice of the Antarctic, but we are just discovering how long these birds can live for.

“In recent years on the Farnes, ringing recoveries have suggested that birds can live into their early thirties, and now we have proved it once again.

“Not only is this an incredible age, but considering this bird has been travelling to the other side of the world on an annual basis ever since, makes you wonder just how far this bird has travelled in its lifetime.”

It has been calculated that the bird has clocked up a total of 620,000 miles in its years commuting between Northumberland and the Antarctic.

“ So this bird has travelled the equivalent of flying to the moon and back and back half-way to the moon in its lifetime,” says David.

“What amazing birds and hats off to these long distance travellers.”


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