How are Jersey’s garden birds faring? Not all that well it seems. The results of this year’s Great Garden Bird Watch show some genuine causes for concern in our bird populations. Don’t forget, the majority of the bird species that are recorded during this survey are those that have adapted well to people and, we had assumed, to our modern way of life. These are generally the birds that we feed and enjoy to have around us.
The good news this year is that at least the weather over the count weekend was better than in 2014. This year we received 315 completed survey forms and although the weather was still pretty poor it could only have been better than last year’s gales.
The Top 10 bird species recorded was pretty consistent with previous years’ counts. Again house sparrow topped the poll, recorded at 225 of the households that reported. With 1,637 sparrows counted, that’s 5.2 sparrows per garden in the survey. House sparrow has declined alarmingly in Jersey over the last 25 years and this is reflected in our 14 years of garden counts. However, despite the overall decline since 2002 there may be some cause for optimism as the last few years have shown a slight increase in numbers. St Saviour, St Helier and St Lawrence have the most sparrows which suggests that in Jersey at least sparrows can still be found in a town.
Chaffinch was the second most recorded species, spread nicely across the Island, and starling the third with most reported from St Saviour and St Brelade. We have dealt before on overall reductions in starling numbers and that this can be further seen in the survey since 2002 is a stark reminder of just what is happening to this formerly abundant bird. Following the starling in the Top 10 were blackbird, wood pigeon, great tit, magpie, blue tit, collared dove and…….herring gull. Robin only came in 11th which may be a surprise. However, at least the robin population appears relatively stable with an average of 1.2 per garden.
What of the other ‘typical’ garden birds? Well, both great and blue tit numbers show slow declines while the blackbird population does look pretty stable (1.9 birds per reporting household in 2015) despite them having such a good year in the UK. This might suggest that, while big numbers of blackbirds fly into Jersey in winter, these immigrants don’t turn up in our gardens. Sadly, greenfinch numbers are, as predicted, very poor with now around one quarter of the number recorded per garden compared to 2002. The only consolation we can see in the trend of the greenfinch is that it may have levelled off and that it seems that those that do live here don’t go into gardens in winter as much as they once did.
Are any of our garden birds actually doing ok? Well, while you might not be surprised that magpie numbers stay the same year on year (around 1.5 per garden) only really wood pigeon and blackcap have gone up in numbers. Neither should be a surprise, the pigeons are rather obvious (and they can be bullies) and their increases much noted and the blackcap’s change in wintering habits widely reported. So, all in all, it’s not really very good. We do still have quite a few birds in our gardens, which is nice, but overall they may not be faring very well. And what does that say about our lives that the birds in our gardens are declining?
As in previous years we are excited to see what comes out in the ‘others’ columns of the report sheets when they come in. That red squirrels are widely recorded, although most seem to be in St Brelade and St Lawrence, is not a big surprise but it’s nice to hear too of toads and newts. This year several early bees made it onto the forms as well as marsh harriers, including three in a hedge in one site, buzzards, a very bold little egret and a grey wagtail that was the first recorded by the house owners in 46 years of occupancy. We even had three cirl buntings reported. But that was from Grouville where all our cirl buntings are!
Once again, as organisers on behalf of Action for Wildlife, Birds On The Edge and the JEP we are very grateful to everyone who sends in their counts. Here’s hoping for further improvements in the weather during next year’s count and for better news about all our birds!