H Glyn Young and Andrew Koester
No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.
During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?
Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.
Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here
Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:
Species: Average per reporting garden
- House sparrow 6.9
- Goldfinch 2.8
- Chaffinch 1.8
- Wood pigeon 1.77
- Starling 1.75
- Great tit 1.6
- Blue tit 1.6
- Collared dove 1.4
- Magpie 1.4
- Robin 1.3
- Blackbird 1.0
- Greenfinch 0.33
- Song thrush 0.26
- Pheasant 0.22
- Blackcap 0.16
- Great spotted woodpecker 0.12
Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.
The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!
Of further interest to us is this year’s Top 10 in the UK (from RSPB):
Species: Average per reporting UK garden
- House sparrow 4.4
- Starling 3.1
- Blue tit 2.6
- Blackbird 2.3
- Wood pigeon 2.3
- Goldfinch 1.8
- Great tit 1.5
- Robin 1.0
- Chaffinch 1.3
- Magpie 1.2.
There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.
So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!
Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here