The event – held over the last weekend in January and for the very first time extended to include the following Monday, revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings.
These attractive looking birds are regular visitors to Scotland over winter but every seven to eight years they flock in here in much higher numbers when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around nine times more gardens in 2017 compared to previous years in Scotland.
Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year Scottish gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing and fieldfare, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.
Keith Morton, species policy officer at RSPB Scotland, said: “The wildlife we see around where we live such as a blackbird singing from a rooftop or a robin perched in a tree is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. Having over 35,000 people in Scotland spend an hour taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch is fantastic and an indication of how much people enjoy seeing the wildlife that lives around them. Using the results from the 626,184 birds counted allows us to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing now, and compared to previous years.
“Conditions in Scandinavia in autumn and early winter led to suggestions that we could see a much higher influx of waxwings this year and the survey results indicate that this was the case. Waxwings are very striking, exotic-looking birds with prominent crests, bandit masks around their eyes and brightly-coloured waxy quills on their wings, the reason for their name. They do visit Scotland most winters but this year around 21 times more waxwings were seen than usually noted in the survey. They were also recorded in far higher number than usual across the rest of the UK and seen as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland. Their distinctive colouring and love for berries make them a great sight to see - something that more people will have been able to do this year.”
House sparrows remained at the top of the Scottish Birdwatch results, a position they have held since 2012. Starlings climbed up once place to second, pushing chaffinches down to third. Blackbirds and blue tits rounded off the top five for 2017.
Our gardens and open spaces are invaluable resources for birds throughout the year. Wildlife friendly gardens can provide birds, and other wildlife such as insects, amphibians and mammals, with places for them to eat, shelter, and bring up their young.
Keith continued: “Making your garden wildlife friendly is a great way to help the garden birds we all love to see throughout the year as well as some of our more unusual visitors who only visit at certain times. Once birds know where a reliable source of food and shelter is to be found they will keep coming back to it which means you will be able to enjoy seeing them a lot more.”
The accompanying RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch survey saw over 6,300 school children in Scotland spend an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor followed by carrion crow and starling.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.
For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch