How Many Birds are there in the UK?
22nd June 2011
Just how many birds have we got in the UK? Not species – this is well documented, but individual wild birds. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) co-ordinate bird statistics and changes in species numbers, using state-of-the-art models which integrate the best available survey data from many sources. Top the charts by species according to BTO estimates of adult breeding birds are Wrens (16m), Blackbirds (10m), Chaffinch (10m), Blue Tits (7m), Wood Pigeon (6m), Great Tit (4m), Willow Warbler (4m), Skylark (3.5m), Song Thrush (2.8m), Blackcap (2m). So, in rough terms, the 10 most populous wild bird species account for c. 65m birds.
In 2004 RSPB estimated that there were c. 126 million, non-marine, wild breeding birds resident in the UK – from which we can interpret that the top 10 species by population contribute about half of the wild bird population, and then all other UK species with lower populations create the other half of the wild bird population, With our UK population of c. 68m, that is just two wild birds per person. This increases to 3-4 wild birds per person if we include non-breeding, wintering birds and marine birds on our shores. This is a ‘scarily low’ statistic. We have as few as 2-3 wild birds each. How many are in your garden? If you’ve got more than your fair share, say ‘thank you’ each time you look outside. Think of large arable fields devoid of birds, and then consider the disproportionate ‘oases’ that our gardens provide for our wild birds. It is SO important.
The European average is 10 breeding birds per person, with Greenland having the highest ratio of 188 breeding birds per person due to the low population.
The UK has around 9 million cats, and a good proportion, particularly the 1.2m feral cats, kill wild birds for fun. BTO has estimated that cats kill c. 60 m songbirds per year; if that is correct it is half the population!! Some pet cats are killing more than their owners ‘share’ of birds every couple of weeks! Owners can do things to prevent this simply – collars than emit an electronic squeal to warn birds of the approaching predator. The number of birds of prey – buzzards and red kites particularly- is growing rapidly – great to see them soaring, but they also eat other birds. Don’t ask a gamekeeper how many pheasant and partridge poults are lost to raptors. It is lots. Raptors kill because that is what they do, the chicks are rarely eaten; they even die of fright! Magpies and Crows also have their fair share of eggs, blamed by many experienced countrymen and gamekeepers for the decline of songbirds, though contested by most conservation bodies. It is tricky for wild birds to increase in numbers in the environment we have created.
But surely there are more birds than this in the UK?? OH YES THERE ARE. They’re chickens…. The number of chickens in the UK at any one time is about 145m – more than the number of breeding wild birds! This is made up of c. 116m broiler chickens for us to eat, and c. 29m laying chickens. And these chickens are not permanent fixtures. In the UK, we replenish the population of chickens about every 2 months, so over one year we give a home to 850m chickens, 23 m turkeys and 20 m ducks – all slaughtered for us to eat (Figures from Defra). This means the average Briton eats 12 chickens per year (excluding any that are imported). Not terribly surprising – but a scary thought when presented next to the vulnerability of wild birds.
Should the conservation bodies be getting the wild bird numbers up by captive breeding programmes for wild birds, managed by chicken farmers who are so successful at keeping millions of birds? That would put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons…. tee hee!