Unusual visitors in gardens across North Yorkshire

Long tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus, collecting insects from hawthorn bush, Co. Durham, May
Long tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus, collecting insects from hawthorn bush, Co. Durham, May

Close to half-a-million people, including 9,194 in North Yorkshire joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.

The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings.

These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia.

Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were spotted in gardens around the country, including in North Yorkshire, and were seen in 18 times more gardens across Northern England in 2017 compared to previous years.

Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors.

Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and bramblings, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature.

“So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.

“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case.

“Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries.”

There was also good news for robins, which climbed from number ten in 2016 to number nine this year in the rankings in North Yorkshire. Blackbirds were the county’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in 96% of North Yorkshire gardens.

The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-8%) and great tits (-6%) on last year’s figures for North Yorkshire.

This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.

The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children, including 559 across North Yorkshire, spend an hour in nature counting birds. Starling was the most common playground visitor in North Yorkshire with an average of almost nine per school. The top three in the county was rounded off by blackbird and black headed gull.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.

For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – rspb.org.uk/birdwatch