Mass Exodus from Back Garden

It’s as if somebody’s flicked the ‘Off’ switch this week in my back garden in Whitchurch, Cardiff. Up until last weekend I could almost guarantee seeing a bird or two out there if I was willing to wait no more than around 5 minutes. But now, it’s almost completely deserted for most of the day.  It may be brass monkey weather out there at the moment, but hopefully this is a sign, in the birds’ minds if not ours, that Spring has arrived.

Great Tit (Photo: Chris Gomersall - RSPB Images)
Great Tit (Photo: Chris Gomersall – RSPB Images)

I’ve been lucky enough to get 25 species in the garden since the beginning of December, averaging around 15 different species a week. Sounds as if I should get out more? Probably. But, I’ve got a good idea of what’s being going on because of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch (GBW). Not to be mistaken with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place over one weekend every year, the BTO’s GBW is a weekly survey which takes place throughout the year. I’ve been doing it since January 2010 and it’s given me a real insight into the movements of birds in and out of my garden over that period – subtle seasonal changes which I probably would hardly have noticed if I hadn’t been taking part in this survey. And it’s all online so you can have access and explore your personal records at the click of a mouse.

For instance, I can quickly see that I haven’t seen a Goldcrest in the garden since October 2012, and that my highest count for Greenfinch was 20 back in September 2010.

Goldcrest - missing in action (Photo: Jeff Slocombe)
Goldcrest – missing in action (Photo: Jeff Slocombe)

Starlings, after being virtually absent for a couple of years, returned this winter in numbers comparable to those seen in 2010. Chaffinches always appear around the beginning of October and depart  before the end of March, and are very rarely seen at any other time of the year. Feral Pigeons, which used to be present every week, have surprisingly crashed from an average maximum count of around 10 in 2010 to no more than 2 or 3 in recent months –  and there were several weeks in 2011 when I didn’t seen any at all.

Best of all, you can work out the Top 10 for your garden! Here’s mine:

Species Reporting Rate
Blue Tit 0.96
Greenfinch 0.96
Goldfinch 0.95
Woodpigeon 0.93
Great Tit 0.91
Blackbird 0.89
House Sparrow 0.85
Feral Pigeon 0.82
Robin 0.81
Magpie 0.74

It’s too easy to dismiss your garden bird records as being not that important in the overall grand scheme of things. But gardens are becoming ever more important refuges for certain species of birds which are under so much pressure in the wider countryside. The collection of such records is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.

Blue Tit - almost ever present (Photo: Jeff Slocombe)
Blue Tit – almost ever present (Photo: Jeff Slocombe)

BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a ‘citizen scientist’ working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain.

If you haven’t considered taking part in the Garden BirdWatch survey, please consider giving it a go. Consistency of counts is the important thing, but rest assured, the BTO certainly won’t mind if you miss the odd week here and there!

The Cardiff Blackbird Project was established in April 2012 to examine the ecology, behaviour and demography of urban birds using Blackbirds as a model.

The Blackbird has many traits that make it ideal as a model species.  It is common, making for large data sets. It is a relatively large species, meaning it is easy to observe. Blackbirds are also widespread, which allows comparison between populations in different habitats and geographical scales.

A Cardiff Blackbird
A Cardiff Blackbird

The project is based around developing a long-term monitoring programme, contributing to the Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme, on which a number of more detailed research projects examining Blackbird ecology in a suburban environment will be based. Currently the study site for the project is the northern part of Pontcanna Fields, in the area which includes the allotments and Cardiff Riding School.

The success of these projects relies on having a large population of individually marked birds that can be followed throughout the year. Unique plastic colour-rings are fitted so that individuals can be recognised through binoculars or a telescope, avoiding the need to capture birds multiple times. The colour-rings in use are yellow with black letters and are placed on the left leg. A standard BTO metal ring is on the right leg.

If you see a colour-ringed Blackbird, the team would love to hear about it, by logging your records online, or by contacting:


The Project is run by members of Cardiff Bird Ringers and Cardiff University School of Biosciences.

Chat Survey Returns for 2013

Last year a number of intrepid volunteers took part in a Wales-wide survey of our chats – Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear.

The season however, was the victim of atrocious weather making visits to squares impossible for many cases. As a result, we did not quite attain the coverage needed to make meaningful scientific analysis possible.

Stonechat by Edwyn Anderton, on Flickr
Stonechat by Edwyn Anderton, on Flickr

In order to achieve our necessary target of between 300-400 surveyed squares across Wales, we will be running the survey again this spring, with some new squares to visit and some of last year’s squares which were defeated by the weather.

In our region, we have been allocated a number of new survey squares in the Valleys and uplands, which is hopefully more typical of the habitat these species frequent.

You can find out more or sign up to take part and select a 1km survey square, or contact:

Wayne Morris
h: 01443 430284
m: 07890 528926

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