The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) organises an amazing survey every year in the UK where half a million people spend an hour noting down the birds seen in their garden during one specific weekend in January. That weekend is this weekend, and I have just submitted my results.
I live in an apartment in Zone 1 in London. I am very lucky that, despite my central and highly urban location, I share a reasonable sized garden with the owners of the other three flats in my block. I spent an hour with my binoculars, a notepad and pen, and my camera looking out of my sitting room window and noting down what I saw. An important rule of the survey is that you only note down the number of birds you can see at any one time to avoid the possibility of double-counting. Here is what I spotted:
Blackbird (Turdus merula) – 2
This fat, young female (above) was one of two Blackbirds I saw in the hour. It is ranked as the fourth most common garden bird in the UK and last year’s survey showed that people saw an average of 2.6 of them per garden recorded.
Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) – 2
Despite the rather poor photo above, I saw at least two Blue tits flitting regularly between the trees during the hour. Blue tits are recorded as the third most common garden bird with last year’s results showing that there were, on average, nearly three of them per garden. Indeed the increase in bird feeders in garden is probably a major factor which explains the 20% population increase in Blue tits recorded over the last 30+ years of the RSPB survey.
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) – 2
The bird above is a female Common Chaffinch. From last year’s survey, it is ranked as the fifth most common garden bird and the fact that I saw two of these birds fits neatly as that was the average record returned last year.
Feral pigeon (Columba livia) – 4
Although only ranked as the 15th most common garden bird from last year’s survey, if you take the results for Greater London, it is the fifth most common bird. Given my central urban location, it was no real surprise that I saw more of these feral birds than any other.
Great tit (Parus major) – 1
The eighth most common bird in the RSPB survey and at least one was repeatedly present in my garden during the hour.
Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) – 2
Only recently included in the top 15, this cute bird (above) is now 13th in the list. It mainly feeds and flies in family flocks of 5-15 birds, but I only spotted two in my garden during the hour.
Magpie (Pica pica) – 2
I wasn’t quite dexterous or quick enough to capture the magpies in my garden with my camera, but I spotted two of them, which places me above average. The Magpie is the 12th most common garden bird.
Robin (Erithacus Rubecula) – 1
One reason why the gardener’s friend is only 9th most common garden bird is surely that they are so territorial that you are unlikely to see more than one in your garden at any time. However, the RSPB data over the years shows that Robin has undergone a worrying 32% decline in the UK.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) – 1
Whilst pleased to see one Starling, I was surprised it was on its own as Starlings are normally highly social. The Starling is the second most common bird in the survey, but this belies the fact that since 1979 it has suffered a horrendous 80% decline in numbers – one of the worst population falls of any bird in the UK.
Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) – 3
In stark contrast to the Starling, the Wood Pigeon (above) which is the sixth most common garden bird, has increased in number by a staggering 800% in the last 30 years!
So those were the ten birds I saw in one hour from my central London window, which goes to show that you do not have to travel far to experience wildlife. However, at four counted, the Feral Pigeon was not the most common vertebrate seen from my window. As I am lucky enough not to be overlooked, it wasn’t humans either. The most common animal I counted in my garden during the hour was the Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) (called the Eastern Gray Squirrel in its native North America)…
One factor which may have reduced the number of birds I saw in the hour was that a domestic cat (Felis catus) was out trying to hunt them and also chasing the squirrels.
And, to complete the picture, like something from a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the neighbour’s dog (Canis lupus familiaris) was out chasing the cat, the squirrels and barking at anything that moved.