Survey records waxing number of waxwings

By Surrey and Hants News in Environment

Close to half a million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.

Hampshire residents rallied to the call for participants, with 13% per cent more people taking part in the survey this year compared with 2007.

The event, held over the last weekend in January, revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings.

These attractive-looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every seven to eight years, when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia.

Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 19 times more gardens in south-east England in 2017 compared with previous years.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors.

Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing and fieldfare, as sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.

South-east England saw numbers of redwing triple, while garden observers saw a five-fold increase in fieldfare sightings.

RSPB conservation scientist Dr Daniel Hayhow said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature, so to have over half a million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing.

"Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.

“In the lead-up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case.

"Flocks of these striking-looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries.

"With it only happening once every seven to eight years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”

House sparrow, starling and woodpigeon are the top three most common birds in Hampshire gardens.

Starlings are up nearly a third on numbers recorded 10 years ago and struggling sparrows, having endured a national slump, now appear to be stabilising in Hampshire, with a two per cent population increase since 2007.

The county’s blue tits and great tits saw their numbers drop 15 per cent and two per cent respectively compared with last year.

Both species are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual.

Recorded sightings have increased for 12 of the county’s top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds, showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.