Robin numbers hit 20-year high in British gardens

Sarah Knapton
An extra 130,000 robins were spotted during the RSPBs Big Garden Birdwatch  - Grahame Madge/RSPB

The number of robins in British gardens is at a ‘remarkable’ 20-year high, driven by two years of warm and wet winters.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch found that robins are now the seventh most common bird in Britain’s gardens with at least one spotted in most gardens surveyed over a weekend in January.

Scientists at the RSPB have described the increased numbers as ‘quite remarkable’, as numbers had slumped considerably in recent years because of cold conditions between 2008 and 2014.

But wetter warmer winters between 2015 and 2017 has caused a boom, with 130,000 more robins seen this year, compared to 2014.

Harry-Jay Bellew of the RSPB said: “Our scientists have linked the rise in robin numbers to the succession of mild winters between 2015 -2017, with population numbers increasing more robins are spilling into gardens in search of food.

“The rise in numbers is quite remarkable given that numbers dropped quite considerable between 2008-2014.”

A waxwing feeding on berries in Bedfordshire in January Credit: Andy Hay RSPB

UK gardens also saw a "waxwing winter" with a huge number of the unusual migrant birds which flocked to the country from Scandinavia in search of food.

Waxwings arrive in the UK in large numbers once every seven to eight years when the berry crop fails in Scandinavia in what is known as an "irruption", and were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 than in the last couple of years.

The birds, which have a dusky pink colouring with a black strip across the eye and a punk-like crest were seen as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland, Birdwatch organisers RSPB said.

Alongside robins, blackbirds also had a good year, rising to third in the Birdwatch rankings and becoming the UK's most widespread garden bird, spotted in 93 per cent of gardens.

But there was a downturn in sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits, thought to be the result of prolonged wet weather in the 2016 breeding season which led to fewer young birds surviving so fewer were seen in the winter.

Numbers of tits fell because of the difficult breeding conditions last year  Credit: Grahame Madge

The sparrow and starling remained in first and second place in the rankings for the most commonly seen birds, and both species saw an upturn in numbers compared to last year, although they have both suffered long-term declines.

The RSPB said the results showed the positive effects of wildlife-friendly gardens, with recorded sightings increasing for 16 of the top 20 species between 2016 and 2017.

Claire Thomas, RSPB wildlife advisor, said: "Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds - throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter.

"If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines."