Garden Bird Survey starts next week

A scroll through the Anglo Celt Facebook page will show that there are quite a few bird lovers in Cavan, and many of them contributed to BirdWatch Ireland’s survey of Irish Garden Birds.

Covid lockdown saw record-breaking numbers take part in the annual Irish Garden Bird Survey. Cavan birdwatchers have been told that this year’s survey starts next week.

BirdWatch Ireland’s survey is open to everyone in Ireland who wishes to take part and has charted the rise of species like Goldfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker in gardens across Ireland, the dramatic decline of the Amber-listed Greenfinch, and the continued success of the Robin as Ireland’s most common garden bird.

BirdWatch Ireland’s Irish Garden Bird Survey returns next week, for the 33rd consecutive winter. The survey is very simple and asks people to spend a short amount of time each week watching their garden birds and recording what they see. It plays an important role in tracking the fortunes of some of Ireland’s best-loved wildlife.

Numbers participating last year were the highest ever, partly due to the winter Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but also the newfound appreciation for nature that many people gained during the pandemic. “Not only were more people talking about birds and wildlife last year, but they were taking action too,” said Brian Burke, who coordinates the survey for BirdWatch Ireland. “Over 2,500 households across the country took part last winter, which was an increase of over a thousand from the year before! We got letters and emails from people telling us how the birds gave them some comfort and welcome distraction amidst the chaos of the pandemic, while others said how much their kids enjoyed it, and almost everyone commented on noticing birds that they had never seen before.”

The results from last winter showed that Robins were the most common species in Irish gardens yet again, followed by Blackbird and Blue Tit. Chaffinch fell two places to 6th, which is their lowest ranking in 14 years. Goldfinch dropped three places to 10th and Wren fell two to 11th, while birds such as Great Tit, Starling and Song Thrush all climbed up the table.

“Last winter was cool and wet for the most part, but despite some occasional storms and short spells of snow, there was nothing particularly disastrous from a bird’s point of view, and that’s reflected in the small movements up and down the table we saw for most species,” said Brian Burke. “However, we know that many birds struggled to nest during the cold spring and summer that followed, and we expect to see that reflected in gardens this coming winter.”

The Coal Tit is a common bird in forested areas across Europe, but in Ireland we have our own unique subspecies. The ‘hibernicus’ Coal Tit jumped three places up the rankings to 7th, occurring in 87% of Irish gardens last winter (9% increase). The other notable winner last year was the Siskin. This delicate yellow finch is usually absent from gardens until late January onwards, when their numbers start to rise. Last year though, they were frequently seen from the end of November, and they moved up 7 places to 21st as a result, making them twice as common as they were during the previous winter. The high level of coverage across the country last winter gave a better insight into some of the less common species too. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen in 20 different counties and over 100 gardens (always on peanut feeders), highlighting their continued success since their colonisation of Ireland around 15 years ago.

In 2021, BirdWatch Ireland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Northern Ireland (RSPB NI) jointly published their list of ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’ for Ireland. A number of garden birds featured on both the amber list (medium concern) and red list (high concern). Most households will be familiar with Starling, House Sparrow, Goldcrest and Greenfinch, but these are all amber-listed now, either due to rapid recent declines in Ireland, or significant declines at European level. Fewer households are lucky enough to see our resident seed-eating Yellowhammers or migrant Redwings from Iceland visit their gardens, and both of these now feature on the red list.

The survey is sponsored by Ballymaloe: “Ballymaloe House, Ballymaloe Cookery School, and Ballymaloe Foods are delighted to again sponsor Birdwatch Ireland's annual Irish Garden Bird survey,” Fern Allen of Ballymaloe House said.

“It is a fitting tribute to my late father, Ivan Allen. He was a keen amateur ornithologist and farmed the lands at Ballymaloe sensitively in order to preserve the wildlife. Thank you to Birdwatch Ireland for this great opportunity to support this invaluable wildlife preservation initiative.”

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is the biggest and longest-running wildlife survey of its kind in Ireland, and this year BirdWatch Ireland has acknowledged 77 individuals in 19 counties, who have taken part in the survey for over 20 years: “A lot has changed for Ireland’s wildlife in recent decades, and we only know that because of these sorts of scientific surveys, which would be nothing without the people who feed into them. Their dedication to participating in the survey for so long is really inspiring and has been really important to help us track environmental change. Hopefully some people who get involved this year will still be doing it in 20 or 30 years’ time,” said Brian.