House sparrow retains its perch at ?the top of Scottish garden bird league

House sparrow. Picture: RSPB

Scotland’s garden birds are experiencing mixed fortunes, according to the latest UK-wide survey.

Results from the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB nature conservation charity, saw the house sparrow retain its top spot as the species sighted most often across Scotland.

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Starlings and chaffinches also held their positions in second and third place.

However, more than half of the country’s most common birds, including robins and siskins, saw a drop in numbers during this year’s count.

More than 100,000 house sparrows were recorded north of the Border during the 2019 count, an increase of nearly 30 per cent on a decade ago.

The species was seen in nearly three quarters of all gardens where surveys took place. There was a drop in sightings of two of the smallest birds to visit gardens – wrens and long-tailed tits – which fell by nearly 11 per cent and 17 per cent respectively in 2019.

Experts believe populations of both species may have been hit by last year’s Beast from the East as small birds are most susceptible to cold weather.

They say it’s too early to know whether the decrease in sightings is a one-off or the beginning of a worrying trend.

Keith Morton, senior species policy officer for RSPB Scotland, said: “This year’s results show some encouraging statistics in Scotland, with nearly 16 per cent more starlings seen during the Big Garden Birdwatch than 10 years ago, as well as nearly 30 per cent more house sparrows.

“This can give us some hope that despite declines, it’s possible at least a partial recovery may be happening. This year’s survey also highlighted a rise in the number of sightings of brambling and fieldfares on last year’s figures.”

The RSPB survey is an effective indicator of how the country’s garden birds are faring.

It was the first to flag up a decline in populations of song thrush – a species that had been a firm fixture in the UK top ten in 1979 but crashed to less than half its previous numbers by 2009. It sits at 24 in the 2019 Scottish rankings.

Mr Morton said: “Across 40 years the Big Garden Birdwatch survey has painted a positive picture for birds such as wood pigeon and coal tit that are faring well, while also revealing alarming declines for species such as song thrush, starlings and house sparrows.”

More than 32,000 Scots took part in the survey, counting almost 600,000 birds.

Mr Morton added: “Garden birds provide a connection to nature and bring something special to the everyday lives of people across Scotland.

“When thousands of people take time to spend an hour watching wildlife in their garden it not only helps us build a picture of how Scotland’s garden birds are faring, but it’s a meaningful experience for those who take part.”