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Small birds weather the winter

7 April 2011

Inage Credit Wikipedia, Jacob Arnold

Garden birds have confounded predictions by weathering this year's harsh winter surprising well.

The biggest survey yet of garden birds has found even the smallest have come through the aftermath of the coldest December in a century.

More than 600,000 people took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch in January, spending an hour in their gardens or in local parks recording which birds visited. Sightings of goldcrests (pictured above), Britain's smallest bird at about 9cm long, doubled, while numbers of long-tailed tits were up by a third and coal tits by a quarter.

The story is markedly different to the survey carried out after the similarly hard winter of 2010, when populations of all three species fell significantly. Small birds are much more vulnerable to cold weather as they are so tiny they must eat more often to keep their body heat up.

The RSPB is putting the figures down to a particularly good spring and summer, allowing populations to recover sufficiently to make up for last winter's losses.

'We were really interested to see how the small birds fared after such a disastrous last year,' said Big Garden Birdwatch's co-ordinator, Sarah Kelly. 'It appears that many may have had a decent breeding season and have been able to bounce back a little.'

The house sparrow kept its place at the top of the list of the most numerous birds for the eighth year running, with an average of four seen in each garden. Starlings were second, while blackbirds came in third. All three species have increased in number, but populations are still half what they were when the survey first began in 1979.

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