UK garden birds from the past

Black redstart
In the 1940s and 1950s black redstarts made homes in bombed out buildings in London Image by Imran Shah licensed and derivative distributed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) (cropped).

How has the mix of bird species changed over the years? I remember in the 1970s house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, blue tits and great tits were the most regular visitors to our garden.

Some birds have been great at adapting to change. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the black redstart, a summer migrant, discovered bombed-out buildings were a great home. Some pairs stayed in London all winter. [1] Today they do less well and are on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Starling
The starling was yesterday's adapter. It was happy living in the centre of London. Today it is on the decline. Image by hedera.baltica licensed and derivative distributed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) (cropped).

Today escaped parakeets have become a common sight in South-East England and especially London. They have also been spotted in Wales and the Scottish borders too.

The starling was the ultimate urban bird from the past. According to 'The Observer's Book of Birds (1952)', starlings were seen in the heart of London.

Today jackdaws and magpies have adapted to urban life and starlings are on the decline.

Recently goldfinches and woodpeckers have become regulars to our garden. When I was young I would have been amazed to see either of these birds.

Goldfinches were caught from the wild for the pet trade before the 1950s. Many did not survive. Goldfinches were protected by the early 1950s and numbers were increasing.[2]

Starling
Goldfinches were captured from the wild for the pet market before the 1950s. This put the species in decline. Today this colourful little bird is doing well. Image by Airwolfhound licensed and derivative distributed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) (cropped).

Birds living near humans (1952)

According to "The Observer's Book of Birds", these species were happy to live alongside humans, so would have been common garden visitors in some part of the UK.

Robin
The robin was a favourite garden bird in the 1950s and is doing well today. Numbers are on the increase.

In a typical 1960s garden you might have seen:

Source: 'Birds are everybody's pets' by Betty Tay, published in the Daily Mirror, 10 November 1962, page 9

What about today?

Great spotted woodpecker
The great spotted woodpecker was increased in numbers by 350% since 1970. Image by Airwolfhound licensed and derivative distributed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) (cropped).

These birds are thriving today and seen in our gardens.

These birds are doing less well. Sparrows and starlings were some of the most adaptable birds from the past. Today they are struggling.

Blackbird
Still common, blackbird numbers have declined just under 10% since 1970

Some bird numbers have hardly moved since the 1970s. The Chaffinch population is almost the same as it was in the 1970s. Although this picture hides a recent decline.

(*) Source: Derived from information on the RSPB website

'Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970-2019' published by the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs, 26 November 2020

References

[1] 'The Observer's Book of Birds', by S Vere Benson, published by Frederick Warne & Co Ltd. (1952), page 88

[2] 'The Observer's Book of Birds', by S Vere Benson, published by Frederick Warne & Co Ltd. (1952), page 30

By Steven Braggs, June 2021

Add your comments


Name
Comment
To prevent automated Bots from spamming, please enter the text you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ 20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles ★