Garden BirdWatch Annual Results: Focus on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

01 Feb 2011 | No. 2011-09

Annual Results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO’s) Garden BirdWatch have just been published. Huge cold weather movements of Reed Bunting, Redwing and Fieldfare into gardens were charted in 2010, although Goldcrest numbers tumbled. There were also signs that gardens in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland might be the best for birds.

Chaffinch occurred in Ireland more
frequently than in either England,
Scotland or Wales

 Opening with the coldest winter in 30 years, and closing with the chilliest December in a century, 2010 was remarkable for both people and birds. The extreme conditions drew many scarce garden visitors into our towns and cities and, throughout the year, thousands of BTO Garden BirdWatchers across the UK and Ireland made telling observations of the birds that graced their patches.

Intriguingly, there were preliminary indications that the garden bird community of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is unusually abundant. Numerous species – including Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Greenfinch, Song Thrush and Wren – occurred here more frequently than in either England, Wales or Scotland. However, currently, the number of participants in the region is somewhat limited, and so comprehensive comparisons are restricted.

Compared with the long-term average, as calculated since 1995 when Garden BirdWatch began, many less common garden birds increased their presence during 2010. Throughout the UK and Ireland, Redwing and Fieldfare, both winter migrants that breed in Iceland and Scandinavia, exhibited 68% and 94% increases, respectively, coping with the worst of the winter weather by snaffling up the generous offerings of the public. They were joined by farmland buntings, most notably Reed Buntings, which were twice as abundant in 2010 than in an average year.

Bullfinches were another big garden success story. This handsome, somewhat corpulent finch has been in long-term decline nationally, but during 2010 householders were almost 75% more likely to have hosted this colourful bird compared with the long-term average. Bullfinches often appear in small groups, feeding congenially on opposite sides of a seed feeder, and their increase suggests that gardens may be becoming more important for them. Other species that continued their recent march into gardens include Goldfinch (up by 90%) and Woodpigeon (29%), while Great Spotted Woodpeckers continued their gradual colonisation of gardens in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Many smaller species, however, appeared to struggle. One of our smallest, the Goldcrest, fell by more than a third in gardens in 2010 compared with the long-term average, with reduced immigration of continental birds during autumn contributing to this trend. Records of diminutive garden songster, the Wren, were also well-below normal, consistent with a recent downturn in gardens. The loss of these small birds hints at the impact of the severe winter conditions.

Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “With prolonged periods of snow and ice at the beginning and end of 2010, large movements of Reed Bunting, Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling into gardens were expected – and this is exactly what happened. However, without the simple, year-round observations of BTO Garden BirdWatchers, we would not have been able to quantify these movements scientifically or gain precise information on when they occurred.”

He added: “There are tantalising early signs that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has an especially rich garden bird community. In order to explore this possibility further, however, we need more local householders to tell us what is happening on their doorsteps through Garden BirdWatch. Clearly, there are lots of reasons to be excited about the area’s garden birds.”

For a free BTO Garden BirdWatch taster pack, including a copy of our magazine Bird Table, please email gbw [at], telephone 01842-750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors 

  1.  Frozen in time: cold weather movements 2010


  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 15,000 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see
  2. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Information

Tim Harrison (GBW Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at]

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2011-09

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview on 01842 750050

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