House sparrows hold on to the number one spot in Big Garden Birdwatch in Northern Ireland
This year, almost half a million people across the UK – including just under 14,000 people in Northern Ireland – took part counting nearly eight million birds.
The top five in Northern Ireland consisted of house sparrows, starlings, goldfinches (up one place), chaffinches (down one place) and blue tits.
Robins and magpies both hopped up a spot this year, into seventh and eighth spots, respectively.
There were some differences across the counties in Northern Ireland.
While counties Down and Tyrone both had the same top two (house sparrows followed by starlings), starlings were the most-spotted birds in counties Antrim, Armagh and Derry-Londonderry – ahead of house sparrows – while Fermanagh’s number one bird was the chaffinch, just as it was in 2019.
The Birdwatch, held over the last weekend in January, showed that smaller birds including long-tailed tits, wrens and coal tits were seen in greater numbers in gardens than in 2019 thanks to the milder winter.
Across the UK as a whole, house sparrows remained at number one.
Over its four decades, the Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world.
It was first to alert the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers.
This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979.
By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979, it came in at 20th in the rankings this year, seen in just 9% of gardens.
Anne-Marie McDevitt, RSPB NI Head of Species, said: “The Northern Ireland results show the house sparrow holding on firmly to the number one spot. Goldfinches are up one place in the list.
“They are probably doing well because their long fine beak means they can tease out small seeds from common plants like thistles and dandelions.
“And collared doves have pushed coal tits out of the top 10 in Northern Ireland.
“This beautiful dove was first recorded breeding in the UK in 1955 after rapidly spreading across Europe from the Middle East.
“These are, of course, unsettling times for all of us, but we hope that nature can provide a welcome respite wherever people may encounter it and we hope people enjoy finding out about the Big Garden Birdwatch results.
“Despite everything that’s going on in the world, nature is still doing its thing.
“Watching wildlife, whether from a window or a balcony or even online, can offer many of us hope, joy and a welcome distraction.”
Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, added: “Small birds suffer during long, cold winters, but the warmer January weather this year appears to have given species including the wren and long-tailed tit a boost.
“Over the survey’s lifetime, we’ve seen the increasing good fortunes of birds such as the coal tit and goldfinch and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling.
“But there appears to be good news for one of these birds.
“While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 53% (1979 – 2020), in the most recent decade (2010-2020) numbers appear to have increased by 10%.
“This gives us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening.”
Throughout the first half of the spring term, schoolchildren also took part in the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch.
The survey saw close to 70,000 schoolchildren and their teachers spend an hour in nature counting the birds. Blackbird was the most numerous species seen in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, with an average of five per school; and was seen in 85% of all schools that took part.
For a full round-up of all the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results and to see which birds were visiting gardens where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.