WILD Things columnist Eric Brown reveals the cheerful chirper celebrating its 21st birthday at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch chart despite a catastrophic population decline.

Early in the New Year, I wrote about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch which aims to involve anyone interested in birds counting their garden visitors for just one hour over a January weekend.

For once the weather was favourable. This boosted numbers of birds seen and people listing them with around 610,000 watchers counting 9.7million UK birds. Participants are estimated to have spent around 12.1 million hours on this popular citizen science survey since it began in conjunction with the children's television programme Blue Peter in 1979.

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Results help establish population trends and enable the RSPB to act if numbers of certain species fall dramatically. The survey has, for example, revealed population crashes for song thrushes and house sparrows. The latter nested in almost every hedge and house roof until the 1960s but since then declined by more than 60 per cent and is now among red-listed birds of greatest concern. Luckily I have a healthy population of sparrows nearby. These cheerful chirpers perch in my hawthorn hedge and readily come to feeders. Half a dozen turned up on the day and went on my list. Each garden surveyed had an average of four house sparrows. Despite that dramatic decline there are still some five million pairs in the UK and I speculated in my article that sparrows would again top the Garden Birdwatch list.

And they did. The house sparrow was the most commonly spotted garden bird with 1,442,300 sightings. It has been top of the pecking order for 21 years now. When you consider how steeply it has declined, its continuing number one status just underlines how populous it must once have been. Indeed it was rated a menace with people earning financial rewards for each one shot.

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Luckily there is no problem with blackbird, a species I enjoy singing loudly each time I open my windows this time of year. It again made the top six.

Great tits have moved up a place to number seven, while the goldfinch has dropped down to eighth place. The latter are more numerous than the former in my garden. Blue tit, starling, woodpigeon, magpie and long-tailed tit also made the top 10. None moved up or down more than one place from the 2023 table.

Gardens are vital habitats for birds with an estimated combined UK area of 4,330 square kilometres - an area larger than Somerset. We can all help keep bird populations stable by providing them with food, water, nestboxes and appropriate trees and shrubs.


Friday, May 10: RSPB Bexley Annual Meeting John Fisher Church Hall, 48 Thanet Road, Bexley, DA5 1AP 7.30pm.

Sunday, May 19: RSPB Bexley coach trip RSPB Titchwell Reserve, Norfolk, 7.30am to 7pm Tickets £23. For details and to book call Deborah Howard 07957 776686 or email deborahfrances@aol.com