Blue tit top in this year's Big Garden Birdwatch in Surrey

The blue tit was top of the tree again this year as the most frequently sighted bird spotted by nature lovers taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch in Surrey.

More than 12,000 people took part in this year’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) event in the county – part of the world’s largest wildlife survey. .

The house sparrow came second in the count, while in third place, the woodpigeon knocked the blackbird off its perch.

The starling flew into fifth place, above the sixth-placed great tit, while the robin, magpie, goldfinch and collared dove completed the county's top ten spotted birds in that order.

The local results varied slightly from national bird trends.

Across the UK, blue tits moved up to the second most commonly sighted bird in the event - their highest position since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979 – while blackbirds, the previous occupier of the second spot, dropped to number four. Goldfinches, just in the top ten in Surrey at number nine, have climbed nationally by one place since last year, to now perch at number seven, while the robin, the seventh most spotted bird in Surrey, nationally dropped to number ten.

The annual birdwatch results spelled slightly better news for the house sparrow.

Although it remains on the RSPB's red list of birds in need of protection, as numbers have fallen by 62% since 1979, the house sparrow remains the most commonly seen bird in gardens.

Scientists believe that the weather played a role in the ups and downs in this year’s top ten, as many of the birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions. Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods like worms and insects in the countryside.

Ten years ago, goldfinches were in 14th position, but scientists believe that the increase in people providing food like nyjer seed and sunflower hearts in gardens, may have contributed to their steady rise to number seven in the table.

The RSPB said that while over-all numbers of species such as blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings may appear to have dropped in our gardens since last year, in many cases this is not because these populations are in decline, but because these species do not need to come into gardens during mild winters due to there being plenty of natural food available in the countryside.

However, the charity said the continuing declines of some species are of greater concern.

It said numbers of starlings and song thrushes have dropped by an alarming 84% and 81% respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979. Both species are on the UK ‘red list,’ meaning they are of the highest conservation concern.

Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, said: “2014 was always going to be an interesting Big Garden Birdwatch as the winter has been so mild, and we wondered if it would have a significant impact on garden birds.”

He said: “They were out and about in the wider countryside finding natural food instead of taking up our hospitality. “The good news is that this may mean we have more birds in our gardens in the coming breeding season because more survived the mild winter.

“It is a great time to give nature a home by putting up a nesting box and supplementary feeding”

This year, for the first time, birdwatch participants were also asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens.

The RSPB asked whether people ever see deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads, to help build an over-all picture of how important gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home.

This information will be analysed and the results revealed next month.

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch, part of the Big Garden Birdwatch and a UK-wide survey of birds in schools, revealed that the blackbird was the most common playground visitor for the sixth year in a row.

Some 85% of schools that took part in the survey saw blackbirds, with an average of five birds seen per school, slightly down on 2013 figures. Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s latest 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 own gardens and outside spaces – whether by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species. The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature. For more details visit the charity's website at: rspb.org.uk/homes

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