Wild side: Where have the finches gone?

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Around gardens, parks and woods, birds seem to have the idea that spring is on its way.
 Singing Great Tits and Blue Tits have now joined the song of the winter robins, a reflection of short nights and lengthening days. Groups of magpies are also disputing territories, to establish dominance and pecking order. They may be in for a shock.

Jan Turner had a splendid day’s bird-watching in her back garden, as part of the Garden BirdWatch project of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

However, she did comment on how her Greenfinches have disappeared, and this observation was confirmed by data from the BTO. This winter for example, has seen incredibly low numbers of Siskins, a small finch that traditionally comes to garden feeders.

However, there are plenty of good flocks of Siskins and their cousins the Lesser Redpolls, out in the wider countryside. Their absence from gardens is probably due to a bumper crop of Sitka Spruce seeds.

Siskins feed on conifers such as spruce and larch, but also on alder and birch. All our winter garden birds are affected by weather and food availability.

Yet with colder weather forecast, will the Siskins return to our gardens before the winter is out?

Let me know.

BTO Garden BirdWatch data shows Siskin numbers increase in gardens at the end of the year, as the amount of natural food diminishes and weather worsens. But initial results suggest that at the end of 2014, garden sightings were at an all-time low.

Clare Simm, from BTO Garden BirdWatch, said ‘It is always exciting to see a Siskin in the garden, but this year fewer Garden BirdWatchers have had that treat than ever before in the survey. We would not know this without the help of the public, so why not get involved. If each week you spend a few minutes watching what the birds get up to in your garden, you can help gather vital information. You can contact us for a free magazine and information pack on how to take part.’

With the cold weather, will Siskins flood back to our gardens or stay out in the wider countryside?

You can help the BTO find out: for free magazine and information pack, or information about the BTO Garden BirdWatch contact gbw@bto.org ; telephone 01842 750050; or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU. More at www.bto.org/gbw.

Back to the local situation, where have the Greenfinches gone and do you have them in your garden? Do let me know and send in a few pictures if you can. Jan’s garden is in Meersbrook and mine is in Norton, but how are the Greenfinches elsewhere?

Send in your records to put the Greenfinch on the map!

n ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org, www.ukeconet.org for more information.