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Sing a song of sixpence: Blackbirds top of the class again in RSPB's Big Schools' Birdwatch

Last modified: 26 March 2015

Male blackbird sitting on grass

Blackbird remains top of the Big Schools' Birdwatch rankings for the 7th consecutive year

Image: Ray Kennedy

Schoolchildren are bound to know the words to the old nursery rhyme featuring four and twenty blackbirds, but encouragingly most children will be familiar with these birds as they are once again found to be the most spotted species in playgrounds across the UK. 

89% of schools that took part in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch survey reported seeing  blackbirds, with an average of seven birds seen per school,  which is a significant a jump from last year’s figures which averaged five of these songbirds per playground.  

Starlings held onto the number two spot, but for the first time ever house sparrows made the top three, jumping two places up on the list from fifth position last year.  House sparrows were spotted at more than half of all schools; the average counted during the hour-long survey was four.

A record breaking 90,000 pupils and teachers counted the birds in their school grounds for one hour of one day in the first half of Spring Term (5 January – 13 February 2015).  The survey is part of RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch – the biggest garden wildlife survey in the world – which continued the record breaking theme with over 585,000 people taking part in this citizen science initiative over Birdwatch weekend at the end of January this year. 

Big Schools’ Birdwatch has been running for over a decade and helps to track numbers of birds in school grounds, providing an insight into how species are faring and inspiring children to give nature a home.  Participating schools received a certificate and a free wildlife poster once they completed the activity and sent in their results.

The bird with the most significant change in rankings is the song thrush, which rose from 24th to 21st place.  Just over 600 song thrushes were recorded last year, contrasting to over 1,400 in 2015, this is a welcome increase as song thrushes are a bird of conservation concern, numbers have dropped by 70% since the Big Garden Birdwatch began.  Reflecting the Big Garden Birdwatch results, chaffinches and goldfinches have taken a dip in school grounds too, however greenfinches appear to be an exception to the rule by jumping up by one position into the 24th spot. 

There is better news for the house sparrow, as its long term decline appears to have continued to slow and it’s jumped from fifth to third position in the rankings. However, it remains a species of conservation concern as overall numbers have dropped by 57% since 1979 according to Big Garden Birdwatch data. 

Overall, average numbers of birds spotted appear to be substantially up this year; but experts believe this is more likely to be because of the colder weather we experienced around the period of the survey compared to last winter.  Numbers of birds in gardens, parks and school grounds also varies depending on the availability of a range of natural food sources. The dip in the number of finch sightings this year could indicate a plentiful supply of seeds in the wider countryside following a good summer, meaning that species such as finches are less reliant on bird feeders. 

James Harding-Morris, the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch Co-ordinator, said: “It’s encouraging that so many children and teachers continue to take part in Big Schools’ Birdwatch, and seeing the results from this year’s bumper survey gives us further insight into helping our feathered friends thrive. This fun, interactive and educational activity available to schools across the UK not only enthuses children about wildlife, but supports the curriculum and helps us to help give nature a home for future generations to enjoy. “    

This survey is a part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond to support a number of different species or building a home for a hedgehog.
To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit:

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