Biggest bird survey set for take-off

Scots should look out for visiting species such as the waxwing during the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Scots should look out for visiting species such as the waxwing during the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Unusual visiting birds could be spotted in Scottish gardens this weekend as people across the UK help carry out the world’s biggest wildlife survey.

Nature-lovers are being told to fill up their feeders to prepare for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, where members of the public are asked to record all the birds they see in parks and gardens across the UK.

More than half a million people are expected to get involved in the 2017 count, which is taking place over three days for the first time.

Last year saw in excess of 36,000 Scots taking part, spotting 626,335 birds between them. Even more are expected to participate this year.

Information collected during Big Garden Birdwatch provides valuable information about the birds using gardens and parks in winter, enabling ornithologists to study trends and declines in their numbers.

House sparrows retained the top spot position in 2016, with chaffinches second and starlings in third place.

Mild winter temperatures benefitted smaller birds such as long-tailed tits, coal tits and great tits, with results showing a massive 166 per cent increase in sightings of the long-tailed tit north of the border.

However, song thrush numbers continued to fall in gardens across the UK, showing a decline of 70 per cent since Birdwatch began.

But the current cold snap could bring some less common birds to Scotland, according to conservationists, who are urging people to keep their eyes peeled for Scandinavian visitors such as redwings, fieldfares and waxwings.

Although redwings and fieldfares come to the UK every winter, waxwings come in large numbers only when food is scarce in their usual territory in Scandinavia.

Keith Morton, species policy officer at RSPB Scotland, said: “It’s great to have so many people across Scotland taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch each year. Your results provide us with a snapshot of not only how birds are faring this year but also, with over 30 years’ worth of data, help us see changes in bird numbers over the long-term.

“Your results also paint a picture of the birds that are visiting Scotland at this time of year and how conditions overseas can have an impact on what we see here.

“However many or few birds you see during your Birdwatch hour, all your survey information is valuable so please do submit your counts.”

As well winged garden visitors, RSPB Scotland is asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year, such as foxes, stoats and moles.

Mr Morton added: “Wildlife across Scotland is having a really tough time.

“Last year’s survey showed that only 19 per cent of people see hedgehogs in their gardens at least once a month in Scotland - 14 per cent fewer than in 2015.

“We’re including this part of the survey every year now as it helps us monitor how our other wildlife is doing.”

David Wembridge, mammal surveys co-ordinator at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Mammals are a less showy lot than birds, but their presence in gardens is as important a measure of the natural value of these green spaces.

“Recording wildlife in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch gives us a connection to our wild neighbours, particularly those we might overlook.”