Birds put on poor show for expert’s Big Garden watch

The Oxford Times: RSPB Otmoor nature reserve warden Joe Harris was among Oxfordshire residents who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, but he had to admit he didn’t spot anything. Picture: OX66211 Ed Nix Buy this photo RSPB Otmoor nature reserve warden Joe Harris was among Oxfordshire residents who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, but he had to admit he didn’t spot anything. Picture: OX66211 Ed Nix

JOE HARRIS spends his working days observing wildlife but when he sat down in the garden of his Oxford home to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch he saw, well, nothing.

“I didn’t see any birds in my garden,” admitted the warden of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Otmoor nature reserve, near Oxford, as figures were released on the annual count today.

“I’m sure it’s because it’s been a lot milder and there’s loads of food in the wild.”

In Oxfordshire 7,808 people kept watch in their garden for an hour over the weekend of January 25/26 and the local number of birds has held steady over the past five years.

Once again, the house sparrow was the most spotted bird in Oxfordshire and across the country.

“House sparrows live fairly close to where people live,” said Mr Harris, of Abingdon Road, South Oxford.

“They’re a fairly friendly bird. They’re not too afraid of humans.”

House sparrows typically make nests in shrubs, bushes and in the eaves of houses.

In second position was the blue tit, which Mr Harris said was “an adaptable species” and liked bird boxes for nesting.

At number three is the blackbird, followed by the woodpigeon.

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Mr Harris thinks the goldfinch, which moved up from number six last year to fifth position, has become more prevalent because more people are putting out the types of food the bird likes, such as sunflower and nyjer seeds.

Although the starling was the sixth most frequently sighted bird locally, its numbers have dropped dramatically, by 81 per cent, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.

Mr Harris attributes the decline to farmers’ increased use of herbicides and pesticides killing off the starling’s favourite insects.

The RSPB is encouraging people to do a number of things to attract birds to their gardens, including:

  • Put out a wider variety of seeds.
  • Install bird boxes for nesting.
  • Plant wildflowers to attract insects.

This was the first year the Birdwatch included sightings of animals – in particular, deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads. The animal data is still being collated.

Nationally a total of 500,000 people participated in this year’s survey.

FREQUENT FLIERS

THE top five birds in the survey were:

  • House sparrow, right. Average seen during one hour, 3.4. Noisy and gregarious. Eats seeds and scraps. Numbers in UK declined by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008.
  • Blue tit. Average seen during one hour, 2.3. Colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green. Eats insects, caterpillars, seeds and nuts.
  • Blackbird. Average seen during one hour, 2.0. Males are black with orange-yellow beak but females often brown. Eats insects, worms and berries.
  • Wood Pigeon. Average seen during one hour, 1.8. UK’s largest and most common pigeon. Mostly grey with white neck patch and white wing patches. Eats cabbages, sprouts, peas, grain, buds, shoots, seeds, nuts and berries.
  • Goldfinch. Average seen during one hour, 1.8. Red face and yellow wing patch. Eats seeds and insects.

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