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Common garden birds

Rebecca Elliott / 19 January 2015 ( 12 May 2020 )

Read our guide to some of the most common garden birds in the UK and use our pictures to help identify them.

The wren is the most common breeding bird in the UK and despite its small size has a very loud and distinctive voice. In the spring males will build several nests and the female will choose which one to use.

Each year the RSPB organises the Big Garden Birdwatch, an annual event which uses volunteers to count the birds they see in their garden to come up with a list of the 10 most common garden birds in the UK.

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The 10 most common garden birds

According to the 2020 Big Garden Birdwatch the most common garden birds in the UK are:

10. Magpie
9.Long-tailed tit
8. Robin
7. Great tit
6. Goldfinch
5. Blackbird
4. Woodpigeon
3. Blue tit
2. Starling
1. House sparrow

The results are not wildly different from the 2019 results, with the top three birds unchanged. Woodpigeons have moved from five to four, overtaking blackbirds. Positions six, seven and eight also remain unchanged, but at the bottom of the list it's a different story. The long-tailed tit has moved into the top ten, straight into position nine from position 13 in 2019, pushing the chaffinch out of the list. The long-tailed tit had previously been in the top ten in 2018, implying the UK had a colder January in 2019 than 2020.

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Other common garden birds

Large birds such as carrion crows, collared doves and jackdaws are also often seen, particularly if you have an open bird table or large lawn. These distinctive birds can be hard to miss when they appear and are a familiar sight to most of us.

More numerous but harder to spot are the several species of small, brown birds that regularly show up at the bird feeder.

The wren is the UK's most common bird and one of the UK’s smallest birds and with its small, rounded body and upright tail it is often seen in gardens, but is more populous in rural areas. It is particularly noticeable in spring when male wrens build multiple nests for the female to choose from. A similar but more colourful and even smaller bird is the goldcrest, although this little bird is less often seen in gardens. Read more about the goldcrest.

Another common garden bird is the dunnock, a small brown and grey bird with mottled feathers which provide excellent camouflage, making it hard to spot, although competing males can put on quite a display. Read more about the dunnock.

Female blackbirds can often be harder to identify due to their drab colouring, compared to the males, but have beautifully delicate markings if you look closely.

Song thrushes were once a very popular sight in gardens but their numbers are in serious decline, making them much less likely to visit your garden.

As well as blue tits and great tits, coal tits and long-tailed tits are regular visitors and can usually be seen in small flocks. Blue tits, great tits and coal tits might be persuaded to use a well-chosen nest box, but long-tailed tits prefer to build their nests out of lichen and spider webs in hedgerows, the shape of which has led so some amusing nicknames such as Oven builder, Bum barrel and Poke pudding. Read more about long-tailed tits.

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Variables that can affect the birds in your garden

The birds you see in your garden can vary from region to region, and will also depend on what woodland or farmland you have nearby, how close to the sea you are and what food you have in your garden that attracts garden birds. 

Read our guide on what to feed garden birds for more information

The seasons will also affect what birds you see in your garden – with summer bringing exotic visitors such as swallows and winter bringing in some unusual birds to our gardens in search of food. For more information about the birds you might see in your garden in winter, read our guide to winter garden bird spotting.

Climate, too, can have an affect and you're far more likely to see smaller birds early in the year after a mild winter, which explains why smaller birds such as long-tailed tits and coal tits are more numerous in survey results following a mild winter, such as in 2016 and 2017, when long-tailed tits entered the top ten and pushed the collared dove to 11th.

Bird numbers are constantly changing and birds which were once common are now becoming harder to spot, while other species may be on the increase or recovering from previous drops in numbers. Even the common birds such as house sparrows and starlings are down compared to the very first Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979, in fact starlings numbers have declined by a massive 80% and house sparrows have declined by 53%.

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch provides a vital role in monitoring the numbers of our common garden birds. What originally started out as a joint venture between the RSPB and Blue Peter watchers became a popular annual event for adults when, in the 1980s, it was noticed that song thrush numbers were rapidly declining, having been at number 10 in the list in 1979 and now at 21. Whether you live in the town or country, the Big Garden Birdwatch is a great way to help the RSPB monitor British garden bird numbers.

Anyone interested in counting garden birds throughout the rest of the year should look into the British Trust for Ornithology's Garden BirdWatch initiative, which asks members to send in weekly lists of what they've seen in the garden. 

The least common garden birds

Some readers might be interested to know which birds were at the bottom of the RSPB's list. Unsurprisingly of the 80 species listed the least commonly seen in gardens are the ducks and plovers such as wigeons, gadwalls, teals and lapwings. Even large water birds such as mute swans and herons, and birds of prey such as red kites and sparrowhawks, are spotted in gardens more frequently than these uncommon visitors.    

Want to encourage garden birds to visit your garden? Find out what to feed garden birds or learn how to make your own fat balls.

Find out how you can take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

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