Summer Garden Bird Feeding Survey 2017


The Garden Bird Feeding Survey – Summer 2017


Here are the results of our 20th Summer Garden Bird Feeding Survey, which covered the period 5th March to 30th September 2017. We received a total of 72 returns, slightly down on the last couple of years, with two less from rural gardens and two less from urban gardens. The sites covered in our survey range from small town gardens to large rural gardens, including at least one with ‘a small lake’, with others bordered by a stream or river. These gardens tend to account for the less-typical garden species in the survey results, such as Little Egret, Water Rail and Greylag Goose. In total, for the 72 gardens, there were nearly 28,000 records submitted, at an average of almost 400 records per garden, so once again our thanks go to all those who took the time to do that.

The gardens in rural sites recorded an average of 29 species feeding or foraging, whilst the gardens in urban areas recorded, on average, 21 species. Those levels have stayed fairly consistent over the last few years, as can be seen in Table 1. (link opens in new tab)

Table 1: Average number of species per garden Summers 2017 to 2009 and the number of contributors

The Results

A total of 80 species was recorded in our ‘summer gardens’ in 2017, and these, with all the other species that have been recorded since our summer survey began in 1998, are shown in Table 2. (link opens in new tab)

Table 2: Occurrence of species in gardens in 2017 with comparison of with previous years

During last summer five species appeared in all of the gardens that were surveyed – Blackbird (in all gardens since 2002), Blue Tit (in all gardens since 2004), Wood Pigeon (in all gardens since 2005), Robin (in all gardens since 2007, except in 2013 when in 99%) and Dunnock. In addition the Wren appeared in all rural gardens and the Starling in all urban gardens.

Table 3 shows the frequency of the ‘Top 20’ species in our summer gardens. This is measured by calculating how many weeks in total each species was recorded (all gardens), and comparing that with the maximum possible number of weeks, in the case of 2017 this being 2,160 weeks (72 gardens x 30 weeks). For the fifth summer in a row the Wood Pigeon was the most frequent visitor to our gardens. I’ve also shown in Table 3 the percentage-points change between the average during 1998-2004, and 2017. The biggest ‘winner’ is the Goldfinch (up 42 points), whilst others with large gains are Wood Pigeon (up 25 points), Jackdaw (up 23 points) and Magpie (up 20 points). No prizes for guessing what the biggest ‘losers’ were over the same period, with Greenfinch down 26 points, Starling down 21 points and House Sparrow down 20 points.

Table 3: Frequency of species in gardens in 2017 with comparison of with previous years

The Species

The following comments cover the more significant events in Summer 2017, and major changes since the summer survey started in 1998.


Wildfowl to Grey Heron

As usual, the Mallard is the highest-placed species of wildfowl, appearing in 19% of gardens, mostly in rural areas. The Pheasant is the highest-placed game bird, recorded in 31% of gardens (including two urban gardens), with Red-legged Partridge in 17%, the highest since our summer survey started, and typically all in rural gardens. Sheila Brooke, in her Toddington garden, regularly had up to six foraging under her garden feeders.

Recorded in both rural and urban sites, the Grey Heron was in 18% of gardens, about average for the last three summers.


Once again the Sparrowhawk remains the most regular raptor in our survey, but the results are erratic from summer to summer, recorded in 67% of gardens in 2017. Rory Morrisey took a wonderful photo of one in his Linslade garden, just after it had caught a Feral Pigeon. In Andrew Budd’s Ampthill garden Goldfinches were the number one prey item for ‘his’ male Sparrowhawk, whilst ‘his’ female preferred larger prey in the shape of Collared Doves.

The Common Buzzard was seen in or hunting over 17% of the gardens and Red Kite in or over 18%, and both species were reported from urban as well as rural areas. Mike Jones managed to attract a Red Kite into his Toddington garden by leaving a chicken carcass on his lawn. Please ensure that if you ‘tick the box’ on the survey form for these species, that they are actively hunting your garden space and not merely flying over. The Kestrel (in 11%) and the Hobby (in 7%) also make their appearances in our list.

Parakeet to pigeons

The Rose-ringed Parakeet appears on our summer list for the first time since 2004, with one in Mark Burnapp’s Bedford garden during March.

The Moorhen appeared in five rural gardens and, for the second summer in a row, a Water Rail was in one rural garden.

Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls both appeared in two gardens, unusually all in rural areas.

Once again the Wood Pigeon was recorded in all gardens, as it has been since 2005. In fact it has only been missing from one garden since our summer survey started in 1998. For the fifth summer running it was also the most frequent visitor, and at a level of 92%, was at the highest ever level. Consider that in 1998 and 2000 the frequency level was just 60%.  The Collared Dove was recorded in 96% of gardens surveyed last summer, about average for the last four years. Unlike the Wood Pigeon however, it was at the lowest level of frequency (at 63%) since our summer survey began, with 65% of frequency in rural gardens and 61% in urban sites. In the summer of 2004 it reached an overall frequency of 79%. The Stock Dove is now frequent in our urban gardens as well as rural gardens, in total appearing in 28% of gardens last summer. Similarly, the Feral Pigeon is now more regular in our gardens, in 26% last summer, the highest since the same level in 2009.

Cuckoos were recorded in 6% of the gardens, including a fledgling being fed by a Reed Warbler in the Sandy garden of Andy Skinner and Bex Cartwright.

Owls to woodpeckers

Tawny Owls were recorded in 21% of our gardens last summer and, as expected, they were virtually all in rural areas. As in the previous summer, one lucky garden owner recorded a Barn Owl, whilst the Little Owl was reported in two of the gardens, all of those in rural areas.

The Swift was recorded hunting over 35% of our gardens (can we get them to nest in our roof spaces though?). Some fortunate garden owners recorded Kingfishers in their gardens and, in 7% of gardens, that was at the same level as the previous summer – all were in rural areas.

The results for our two common woodpeckers remain fairly stable, with the Great Spotted Woodpecker appearing in 60% of gardens, and the Green Woodpecker showing in 38%. Both show a preference for rural gardens, particularly the latter. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker failed to show in any of the summer gardens.


Between them, members of the crow family remain widespread and very regular visitors to our gardens and, as before, three crow species are included in the ‘Top 20’ most frequent visitors. The Magpie appeared in 94% of all gardens, being absent from just one rural and three urban gardens. Carrion Crows were reported in 67% of gardens, well spread across rural and urban sites, whilst the Jackdaw was in 71% of gardens. Compared to the Carrion Crow and Magpie the Jackdaw shows a stronger preference for rural gardens, in 84% of those, compared to 50% of urban sites. The Jay was in 22% of gardens, the lowest since the same level in 2011, whilst the Rook was in 25% of gardens, about average for the last three summers.

Goldcrest to House Martin

The Goldcrest appeared in 40% of gardens last summer, the highest level since our summer surveys started in 1998. It shows a slight preference for rural gardens (in 45% of those) compared to urban gardens (in 32% of those). The picture for Coal Tit continues to improve too and, in 78% of gardens, was the highest since our summer survey began. It is another species that shows a preference in the summer for rural gardens, appearing in 86% of those, compared to 64% of gardens in urban areas, although the recent improvement has been in urban gardens.

The Blue Tit has been recorded in all summer gardens (except from one in 2003, which was probably an anomaly), since our survey started. The level of frequency remains consistently high too. Much the same can be said for the Great Tit, although it slipped back last summer, recorded in all gardens apart from two rural and one urban garden. The Long-tailed Tit was recorded in the highest level of gardens, in 86%, since our summer survey began. Conversely the Marsh Tit just about hangs on to its place in our summer survey, being recorded in just one rural garden last summer.

The House Martin appeared over 33% of the gardens, about average for the last few summers, whilst the Swallow was recorded by 29% of garden surveyors. To complete the trio the Sand Martin was recorded in just one of the gardens.


The Blackcap remains the most familiar warbler in our summer gardens, although it can be erratic from year to year, appearing in 49% of those gardens covered last summer. As expected, most of those were in rural areas (in 59%) compared to urban sites (in 32% of those). Again, it has shown a huge increase since 1998, when in 25% of gardens, but that also reflects the increase in the Blackcap population in the countryside at large. The Chiffchaff appeared in more summer gardens than ever before (in 44% of gardens), with a strong preference for rural sites. In 11 of those gardens it was reported during at least ten of the weeks, suggesting that it bred in or in the near vicinity of the garden area. Of the nine urban gardens that attracted the Chiffchaff the most frequent held it for only four of the weeks. The Willow Warbler appeared in 22% of the gardens, about the average level for the last few summers. However, in only one garden was it recorded in more than eight of the weeks, suggesting that our garden birds are merely passing through. Other members of the warbler family to show in our gardens last summer were Common Whitethroat (in 11%), Garden Warbler (in 6%), Lesser Whitethroat (in just 3%), Reed Warbler (in 3%) and Sedge Warbler (in just 1%).

Nuthatch to Starling 

The Nuthatch appeared in 15% of gardens, the lowest since 13% in 2010, whilst the Treecreeper showed in 7% of gardens, about the recent average. As expected, both species show a strong preference for rural gardens.

The Wren appeared in 94% of gardens last summer, the highest since 97% in 2002. It remains comfortably in our ‘Top 20’ most frequent summer garden visitors, at its highest frequency level (41%) since 2003.

The Starling appeared in 94% of the gardens, a small improvement compared to the previous summer. In terms of sites, they showed in all urban gardens and in 91% of rural sites. I’m pleased to say that, after being a rare visitor to my Woburn garden, they are now appearing much more regularly (in 17 of the weeks last summer) albeit in small numbers.

Thrushes and Spotted Flycatcher 

We have now recorded increases in the number of gardens attracting Song Thrushes for the last three summers, and at 76% of gardens last summer that is the highest since in 78% in 2006. The largest increase last summer came from urban gardens, in 61% of those, compared to 86% of rural gardens. However the frequency remains very low in urban areas, at just 8% compared to 29% in rural sites. The appearances of Mistle Thrush in our gardens are, at best, erratic, being in 18% of gardens last summer. It is found almost entirely in rural gardens, with just one urban garden reporting it.

One of the most familiar garden birds remains the Blackbird. Once again there is not much new to say, apart from confirming that it has been seen in every surveyed garden since 2002, and it maintains a very high frequency rate too, beaten off the top spot only by the Wood Pigeon. Similarly, the Robin is a high-profile garden bird, in never less than 99% of gardens since 2004, and at a very stable frequency rate.

A Common Redstart, filmed in one rural garden, must have been a very pleasant surprise for the garden owner.

Dunnock to buntings

The Dunnock was reported from all gardens, and at a frequency of 74%, about average for the last five summers.

The House Sparrow was recorded in 85% of gardens last summer but, in the gardens covered, was entirely absent from eight rural and three urban gardens. The frequency has stayed fairly flat for the last five summers. Of the gardens in which it appears, it is more frequent in urban gardens (at a level of 67%) compared to rural gardens (at a level of 55%). The Tree Sparrow failed to make it onto our garden lists for last summer.

The Pied Wagtail appeared in 32% of the gardens last summer, the vast majority being in rural areas. That was the highest level since 35% in 2008. The Grey Wagtail was in 8% of the gardens, remarkably consistent for the last few years, whilst the Yellow Wagtail made its first appearance in our lists since 2013, appearing in two rural gardens.

On a positive note, the Goldfinch appeared in 96% of gardens last summer, with a frequency of 65%, equal to the high reached in the previous summer. Last summer it was the seventh most frequent garden visitor. In 1998, the first year of our summer surveys, it had a frequency of just 16%.

The Chaffinch appeared in 93% of the surveyed gardens, the lowest since 92% in the summer of 2001. Perhaps more telling, the frequency has dropped too, from a high of 70% in 2008 to 59% for last summer, the lowest since the same level in 2002. It is well known that the Greenfinch is suffering too, with the British race Red-listed in the most recent ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’. All the results from last summer’s survey point the same way, with appearances in only 76% of gardens. That is the lowest level since our summer survey began – as recently as 2007 there were recorded in all gardens covered in the survey. The frequency has plunged too, to a new low of just 42%, the same in rural and urban sites – in 2005 the level was at 73%.

The Bullfinch showed in 33% of the gardens, the highest since 35% in 2013. They show a strong preference for rural gardens, although in two of the urban gardens they were almost ever present.

Of the other finches the Linnet appeared in 7% of the gardens, but never more than in one week in all the five gardens. After the record-breaking level for Siskin in the 2016 summer, the situation in summer 2017 returned to a more typical situation, if there is such a thing with this erratic finch, with records from 13% of gardens. Most reports were in the first three weeks of the survey period although once again they lingered into May in my Woburn garden. The other two ‘winter’ finches just about made the list for last summer, with Lesser Redpoll in 3% of gardens and Brambling in just 1%.

The most widespread bunting in our gardens in the summer of 2017 was, typically, the Reed Bunting, in 10% of surveyed gardens. The next was the Yellowhammer, appearing in 6% of gardens, the lowest level since 2007, when also in 6%.


Our summer garden survey has now been running for 20 years and has given us a great insight into perhaps our most under-estimated habitats. Once again we have to thank the enthusiasm of our members for supporting our garden feeding projects, with many of you taking part since their inception. As usual, with the results from Summer 2017, we can see both expected and surprising trends, not all positive of course, but it does give us a good picture of what birds are occurring (or are not) outside our back door.


Barry Nightingale