Starlings struggling in West Sussex according to new survey

Starlings are struggling, with fewer appearing in West Sussex gardens, according to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results, released today (Thursday March 31).

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, perched on lichen cove. Ray Kennedy (
Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, perched on lichen cove. Ray Kennedy (

In excess of half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, turning their eyes to the garden to watch and count over eight million birds during the 37th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch; witnessing some exciting and interesting changes among our most popular garden birds.

The mild weather in the months leading up to the 2016 Birdwatch affected bird behaviour, as it provided easy access to bugs and reduced their dependency on garden feeders.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “The weather can have varied effects on different groups of birds in terms of behaviour and habitats used. The increase in smaller garden birds just goes to show that in the absence of very cold weather these species can survive winter in much greater numbers. The warmer temperatures have made it easier to find food, like insects, which in colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow.”

2016 Big Garden Birdwatch results for West Sussex

During periods of colder temperatures birds struggle to find food in the wider countryside so become more reliant on garden feeders. Smaller birds have adapted to feeding at bird tables or from hanging feeders.

RSPB Brighton’s Sara Humphrey says: “The results for West Sussex show that smaller birds such as great tits and goldfinches frequently use our gardens to find food. Despite this many other of our garden favourites are struggling.

Starlings continue to feature in the top three visitors to West Sussex gardens, but were recorded in 5.4 per cent fewer gardens than in 2015. This decline continues a national trend that has seen the number of starlings visiting gardens decline by 81 per cent since the first Birdwatch in 1979.

“Providing food, water and nest boxes in your gardens, outdoor spaces and even on balconies offer invaluable resources for starlings and other garden birds, and can have a significant positive effect on local populations.”

The findings of the Big Garden Birdwatch are reflected in the parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch, which continued to break records with more schools and children taking part than ever before. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools had close to 100,000 school children spending an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the eighth year in a row. The top three was rounded off by black-headed gull and starling.

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

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