Researchers search assist to trace backyard finches

Researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have noticed lower numbers of Siskin and Bullfinch using gardens across the first half of this year and are asking people to watch their bird feeders to help track these colourful garden visitors through the coming weeks.

For over 25 years, participants in the BTO Garden Birdwatch survey (GBW) have been observing the birds in their gardens and sharing their weekly observations with the Trust’s scientists. These observations reveal that two of our most colourful finches were less common in gardens through the first half of the year but things may be about to change.

Siskin, a small, black and yellow-green finch, is normally seen in high numbers in gardens during February and March, but remains an uncommon visitor in autumn. Very unusually, this year Siskins were seen in very few Garden BirdWatch gardens in spring, but during the last few weeks they have been seen in many more gardens than usual. These patterns are probably related to the availability of natural foods, notably the seeds of conifer trees, and BTO researchers predict that this winter and next spring will be a bumper time for Siskins at bird feeders.

Siskin, copyright Tony Davison, from the surfbirds galleries

Bullfinch is a large finch, with a black cap and, in the male, beautiful pink breast feathers. Bullfinches feed on seeds and are most often seen at garden bird feeders from November through to July. This year, however, counts have been lower than normal. BTO researchers do not know why this is, so are asking for help from members of the public to keep an eye out for these birds visiting their garden feeding stations over the coming weeks.

Kate Risely, BTO Garden BirdWatch Organiser, says, “The observations of BTO Garden Birdwatchers provide amazingly detailed information on how birds use our gardens throughout the year. This helps us to understand exactly how we can help our garden birds when they most need it, such as by keeping feeders filled during cold weather. These regular records also help us to spot when something is happening with our garden birds, and we are particularly interested in watching what happens with Siskin and Bullfinch numbers this winter”.

Anyone can take part in BTO Garden BirdWatch and submit their observations to BTO; it is free and a great way to entertain children, delivering valuable science and helping our garden birds at the same time.

BTO Garden BirdWatch observations highlight that now is an important time to top up bird feeders and provide food for your garden birds. It is also an ideal time to take a closer interest in your garden birds by keeping a simple record of the birds and when they visit. More information, including supporting resources on these garden birds is available at

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