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Why haven't I seen siskins and redpolls in my garden this winter?

Sent in by Tom and Margaret Leimdorfer, Congresbury, North Somerset

The autumn and winter of 2006/07 has been one of the mildest on records. This has had effects on wildlife throughout Europe from plants through to birdlife. Butterflies have been recorded flying throughout the winter, hedgehogs were active when they should have been hibernating and many flowers have appeared out of season. However, the climate has particularly effected migratory species of bird.

Last winter, siskin and redpolls were prolific in the UK, many visiting garden feeders with resident and migratory finch flocks. This year has seen far fewer as a result of milder weather in their native summer ranges allowing them to stay on and feed through the winter. During harsh winters the UK climate may provide a welcome sanctuary for large numbers of birds including goldcrests, starlings and many other familiar species. Despite the mild weather, some winter migrants have arrived in large numbers, such as the redwing and fieldfare, and have been taking advantage of the abundant berry crop.

The number of migratory birds that arrive each winter differs greatly depending on weather events and how much food is available in their summer ranges of northern and central Europe. The waxwing is a great example of this seasonal variation. In harsh years where the berry crop elsewhere fails or is limited, the UK gets a large number of these attractive starling-sized birds. This year has been mild in comparison and reports have been few and far between.

Migratory species that are usually summer visitors, such as the blackcap and chiffchaff, are now able to overwinter in the UK in increasing numbers. Although the migration of birds varies greatly year on year this may be a reflection of the changing face of birdlife in the UK due to climate change.

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