House sparrows, chaffinches and starlings have held on to their ranking as the top three birds spotted in Scotland’s gardens, a new national study has revealed.
The latest RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey shows the much-loved birds were the most common visitors to green spaces during the last weekend in January.
Despite its endangered status, the house sparrow also remained the most-spotted garden bird across the UK.
The starling, which is also on the UK’s “red list” for conservation, clung on to third place despite a dramatic 84 per cent drop in numbers over the past three decades. Other non-movers, the blackbird and blue tit, rounded off the league table’s top five.
Leianna Padgett, of conservation charity RSPB Scotland, said: “We know from the sheer number of people who take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch that garden birds are incredibly popular. They are a joy to watch and many people go to real efforts to provide extra food and water throughout the winter months.
“During winter, and at other times of the year, many garden birds benefit from extra food and water and a safe place to shelter, and make their home. Gardens provide the ideal space for these visitors.”
However, the findings of nearly 40,000 Scots who logged the birds spotted in gardens and parks across the nation have also revealed some notable changes.
The colourful goldfinch, which until 40 years ago was only found south of the Central Belt, has flown up three places in the past year to land at number seven in the rankings – up from 15th place a decade ago.
Experts are unsure what is behind their steady rise. They said it could be down to more people providing suitable food in their gardens. Alternatively, the effects of global warming and milder winters could be helping the birds to thrive.
“It’s fantastic to see goldfinches continue to climb the rankings,” Ms Padgett said.
“They are adaptable birds and a great example of a species that can flourish with our help. If we leave out some food or let our gardens grow a bit wild, they’ll be among the first to take advantage.”
Although still fairly low down the sightings list, the noisy nuthatch has become an increasingly common garden visitor this year, leaping a massive nine places to perch at number 31.
The nuthatch has been gradually spreading north into Scotland over the past decade, and can now be found in the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, and throughout the Central Belt and Argyll.
But, she said, despite the starling staying in second place in Scotland, long-term trends are a real cause for concern. Recent figures from the British Trust for Ornithology show populations have dropped by 40 per cent in the past 16 years.
Scottish sightings of the endangered song thrush were slightly up on 2013 figures, though overall populations have declined by 81 per cent across Britain since the study began in 1979.
Wood pigeons hopped up the league table from seventh to sixth place, while coal tits slid down four places to tenth place.
Scottish Ornithologists’ Club president Chris McInerny said: “Although the declines in species such as song thrush and starling are worrying, it is also encouraging to note the increase in other birds such as goldfinch, wood pigeon and nuthatch.
“Monitoring schemes such as the RSPB garden bird survey inform us about these changes, and help to provide the basis to instigate policy needed to reverse declines.”
A total of 7,274,159 birds were counted across the UK as part of this year’s Birdwatch, with more than 650,000 of them spotted in Scotland.
“These fascinating results show the contribution that the general public can make to the observation of changes in bird numbers in Scotland – a real and direct example of ‘citizen science’,” Mr McInerny said.
This year, for the first time, people taking part in the survey were also asked to report other wildlife seen in their gardens.
Sightings of deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads are currently being analysed to help the charity assess the importance of gardens for giving all types of wildlife a home.
The results will be revealed next month.