Chaffinch and greenfinch numbers plummet in West Lothian

Massice decline...in chaffinch numbers was recorded in West Lothian, Bo'ness and Falkirk last year so readers are being asked to ensure they regularly clean bird feeders and baths. (Pic: rspb-images.com)
Massice decline...in chaffinch numbers was recorded in West Lothian, Bo'ness and Falkirk last year so readers are being asked to ensure they regularly clean bird feeders and baths. (Pic: rspb-images.com)

Readers are being asked to regularly clean out their bird baths and feeders – to help stop the decline of chaffinch and greenfinch numbers in West Lothian.

In recent years, the RSPB has been worried about the decline of both species in its annual Big Garden Birdwatch poll. Last year’s results were no different.

Pole position...the starling was recorded most in West Lothian, while Bo'ness and Falkirk followed the rest of Scotland with house sparrow being the most common species in the 2017 Big Garden BIrdwatch but which bird will soar into first place this year? (Pic: rspb-images.com)

Pole position...the starling was recorded most in West Lothian, while Bo'ness and Falkirk followed the rest of Scotland with house sparrow being the most common species in the 2017 Big Garden BIrdwatch but which bird will soar into first place this year? (Pic: rspb-images.com)

In 2016, chaffinch was third in the poll in West Lothian, with an average of 3.2 birds being spotted in 59.8 per cent of gardens.

However, last year, it had dropped to sixth place with just 2.1 birds being spotted in 49.7 per cent of gardens – a 33.2 per cent reduction.

In Bo’ness and Falkirk, it was a similar picture with the chaffinch dropping from fifth to eighth in the poll and a reduction in sightings of 30 per cent from 2016 to 2017.

Both areas also witnessed a massive reduction in the greenfinch, which was number 18 on both polls.

Bo’ness and Falkirk recorded a 26.3 per cent decline, while in West Lothian numbers dropped by 22.2 per cent.

It is discovering facts like these that helps the RSPB protect and safeguard birds.

Andy Robinson, an RSPB conservation officer, said: “In some semi-rural areas, you’ll be lucky to see a greenfinch and, sadly, chaffinch are now being affected too.

“Both birds have been really badly hit by the disease trichomoniasis.

“It causes lesions in the throat of the infected bird, which makes it progressively harder for the bird to swallow its food and, eventually, breathe.

“It’s spread via food and drinking water contaminated with saliva so the disease is quite common in bird feeders, stations and bird baths.

“We’d like to ask the public to ensure their bird feeders are kept nice and clean, to try to minimise the impact of this disease.

“We want people to keep on feeding birds but, please, ensure the feeders are regularly cleaned out.”

The news was revealed as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds appealed for readers in the Journal and Gazette area to take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Billed as the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, the event will run from Saturday, January 27, to Monday, January 29.

Members of the public are being asked to spend an hour on any one of those days watching and recording the birds that they see in their own garden or local green space.

Almost 500,000 people took part last year, counting more than eight million birds and providing valuable information about wildlife using our gardens in winter.

The house sparrow remained top of the rankings in Scotland, with starlings and chaffinches rounding off the top three.

However, in West Lothian, the starling came out on top, with 1122 people who participated seeing an average of 6.5 in their gardens; it was spotted in 65.2 per cent of gardens.

In neighbouring Bo’ness and Falkirk, house sparrows came out on top with the 751 people who participated seeing an average of 6.7 in 81.8 per cent of local gardens.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB’s conservation scientist, appealed for locals to take part once again.

He said: “It’s a great opportunity to get involved with helping our garden wildlife.

“By counting the birds that visit your outdoor space, you’ll be joining a team of half a million people across the UK who are making a difference for nature. “It only takes an hour – so grab a cuppa, sit back and see who makes a flying visit to your garden.

“Even if you see nothing during your Big Garden Birdwatch hour, that’s important information too – so please let us know.

“With so many people now taking part, coupled with nearly 40 years’ worth of data, it allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are doing.”

As well as counting birds, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they might have seen in their gardens throughout the year. Up to 15 species can be recorded in total, including hedgehogs, red squirrels, foxes and toads.

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, all you need to do is watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point from January 27 to January 29.

Count the birds that land, not ones flying over, and record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

Results can then be submitted at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

Decline is clear in the rankings

In West Lothian, several birds in the the top 10 swapped places last year.

The 2017 top 10 birds were as follows: 1 starling, 2 house sparrow, 3 blue tit, 4 woodpigeon, 5 blackbird, 6 chaffinch, 7 magpie, 8 great tit, 9 robin, 10 goldfinch.

The largest reduction in numbers in the top ten was the chaffinch, followed by the great tit, with a 10 per cent decline.

In Bo’ness and Falkirk, the top 10 in 2017 were: 1 house sparrow, 2 starling, 3 blue tit, 4 blackbird, 5 woodpigeon, 6 magpie, 7 robin, 8 chaffinch, 9 goldfinch, 10 great tit.

Again, the chaffinch saw the largest reduction in numbers, followed by the great tit, with a 5.2 per cent decline.

The bird rankings in Scotland overall last year remained unchanged from 2016.

The top three birds across the country in 2017 were: 1 house sparrow, 2 starling, 3 chaffinch. But, yet again, the chaffinch recorded the highest reduction – a 29.5 per cent decline on 2016’s figures.

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch survey is the largest citizen science survey in the UK.

The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch, has already begun and runs until February 23.

More than 6300 school children in Scotland spent an hour in nature counting birds in 2017’s survey, with blackbirds remaining the most common playground visitor followed by carrion crows and starlings.

For more information on both events, visit www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/at-home-and-abroad/scotland.