Tag Archives: blackbird

Our national bird

Other countries have fearsome eagles or majestic cranes as their national bird. Now, finally, the British public have decided that our national bird should be the…. Robin.

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Almost a quarter of a million votes were cast in a poll to decide which should be the national bird of Britain. The shortlist of 10 included the beautiful barn owl, dazzling kingfisher, and incredibly rare hen harrier. But the humble robin was a run away winner, getting a third of the votes.

So why did the robin win? Here’s my guess. Robins are pretty common and widespread across the country, all year round. With their striking red breast everyone can recognise it, and sees them pretty regularly. It’s an egalitarian choice – you don’t have to be an expert or live in a particular place to see them. Their song is loud, drawing attention, and they’re not too scared of people.

Many gardeners will have had the company of a robin just a metre or two away as they work, the robin on the lookout for any worms that get turned over by digging. With patience, robins can even be trained to take food from your hand.

The results of this poll remind me of the poll to choose our national animal a few years ago. The humble hedgehog won – another animal that town and country dwellers alike can encounter in their gardens, although sadly hedgehog numbers are declining rapidly, meaning many people haven’t encountered one for years.

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Some people have criticised the choice of the robin, as robins will fiercely defend their territory. Others campaigned for the hen harrier to win, in the hope that raising awareness of the plight of the bird would help to conserve it. The hen harrier has been illegally persecuted by gamekeepers for years. Last year only four pairs of hen harriers successfully bred in England.

But I think the robin is a good choice. It’s fiesty, easily identifiable and attention grabbing. Like the hedgehog, it’s one of few wild birds and animals one can get really close to. Still, I have to admit it didn’t get my vote – I plumped for the blackbird for its song that gladdens my heart each morning.

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Bird nerd part 6: four years of garden bird data

I now have four years worth of data about the birds that visit my garden, so I thought now would be a good time to look at the latest stats, and how they compare to previous years.

In the year from June 2013 to May 2014 I was able to keep records on 38 days. On average I saw 15 individual birds of 7 species per day, although that varied a lot by month. November was the best month for bird watching, with an average of 29 individuals from 8 species per day,  while July was the quietest month, with only 10 birds of 4 species per day. The highest number of species seen per day was only 10, which is down from 13 last year.

Woodpigeon in the snow
Woodpigeon in the snow

The most regular visitors were house sparrows and woodpigeons, with at least one of each seen on every observation day. The most numerous visitors were house sparrows, with an average of 4.6 seen per day. They were followed by starlings, with an average of 2.8, woodpigeons (2.3) and blackbirds (1.4).

Young starlings
Young starlings

How does this compare to previous years?

Average total number and total types of birds seen per observation day, 2010-2014
Average total number and total types of birds seen per observation day, 2010-2014

Well, the overall average number of birds and number of species is pretty similar. But there have been some winners and losers in the last few years, as the bar graph shows.

Average number of individual birds seen per observation, 2010-2014, by species
Average number of individual birds seen per observation, 2010-2014, by species

Winners

Male house sparrow on seed feeder
Hungry house sparrow
  • male blackbird on lawn
    Male blackbird on lawn

    House sparrows (from an average of 1.7 to 4.6 per day)

  • Dunnocks – the average number seen per day in the last year is roughly double that of 2010-11
  • Woodpigeon numbers have also doubled since 2010-11
  • Blackbirds – increased from 0.9 last year to 1.4
  • Magpies – slight increase

Losers

  • Bluetit gathering nesting material
    Bluetit gathering bits of twine to use as nest material
    Robin in the snow
    Robin in the snow

    Bluetits – these used to be some of the most regular visitors to the garden, but are now seen much less frequently

  • Jackdaws
  • Robins – the average number of robins seen has halved in the last year.

If you’re interested in how these figures compare to national observations, read this post on the Big Garden Birdwatch results.