|Scientific name:||Erithacus rubecula|
Resident. Ireland's most widespread garden bird almost every year.
Probably the most familiar garden bird - the bright orange-red breast and facial area make it unmistakable. Upperparts a uniform greyish brown, belly and lower breast greyish white. The bill is dark and pointed and the legs black. Can appear very plump and rounded, especially in cold weather when the bird fluffs out its feathers. Can be very confiding, often perching motionless close to gardening activity. Occasionally cocks tail briefly.
Song a wispy, relatively slow series of notes ranging up and down the scale, becoming more rapid in parts - the notes rolling into each other. Somewhat melancholy - winter song even more so. Calls include a "tick" which is sometimes repeated to sound like an old clock being wound up. Also a plaintive, barely audible "seep".
Insects and some fruits, including apples. Readily comes to bird tables.
Over 2 million pairs breed across the Republic of Ireland, in many different habitats. Nest usually well-concealed in a bank, ivy or cavity in tree or wall. Sometimes chooses unusual location such as a hat or garment hanging in garden shed. Will use open-fronted nestboxes.
Widespread. Recorded in 99% of Irish gardens each winter.
Countryside Bird Survey (summer)
Irish Garden Bird Survey (winter)
Widespread and common throughout Ireland.
Resident all year, commonly seen in gardens during winter.
Blog posts about this bird
Irish Garden Birds get a spring in their step in February!
Goldfinch were only seen in around a third of Irish gardens 20 years ago, but their numbers have continued to increase since that time and now they're regularly seen in 80% of gardens each winter. They're seen in most gardens right throughout the Irish Garden Bird Survey, but the graph here shows their numbers in gardens increases significantly as the winter goes on! We often get people telling us that between sunflower hearts and nyjer seed, their local Goldfinches are eating them out of house and home - but who could be angry with a bird as beautiful and 'charming' as that?!
Siskins are a small species of finch, with a small pointed bill adapted for feeding on very fine seeds, not unlike the Goldfinch. Like the Goldfinch too, they are a species that's very fond of nyjer seed, though they will readily take to peanut and sunflower seed feeders too. They are seen in barely any gardens in December, increasing a bit in January, but by the start of February much of the natural food they rely upon (seeds on trees like Alder and Sitka Spruce) are gone and your garden feeders provide the ideal substitute! Despite their slow start to the winter, they can occur in over 40% of gardens by the end of February each winter. Many of these birds will have come here for the winter from Scotland and Scandinavia, so they desperately need to refuel before migrating back in March and April!
Another small finch, closely related to the Siskin, again with a fine bill and a similar excuse for being absent from gardens until after christmas, with numbers building into February and beyond! The red isn't always obvious on these birds, particularly on the females, and so some people can confuse them with other finch species including Twite (never come to gardens) or Linnets (much bigger!). If you have Goldfinches in your garden, chances are you have a good set up for attracting Redpolls too and they often come to nyjer, sunflower hearts and peanuts too!
The Blackcap is a warbler species, and like the other warblers we have in Ireland, those that breed here leave and migrate south for the winter. While our Irish-breeding Blackcaps are in Iberia and northern Africa during our winter months, Blackcaps from central Europe (same species, but a different population!) come to Ireland for the winter! This migratory route is thought to have developed in part due to the availability of food in Irish gardens, with a warming climate also likely to be playing a part. Numbers in gardens are low in December when there are still berries and fruits in the wider countryside to feed on, but by the end of February there'll be around three times as many Blackcaps in Irish gardens as there was when the Irish Garden Bird Survey started in December. They'll eat peanuts and fatballs in your garden, but also enjoy apples when cut in half and placed in a tree or on a bird table! Keep an eye out for brown-capped females too!
And the rest...The above are species that show a consistently strong trend, year after year, of increasing numbers from early December when the Irish Garden Bird Survey starts, to the end of February when the survey finishes. They're not the only species that show this trend though. Great Spotted Woodpeckers show a similar trend, though the effect isn't as strong as they still only appear in a small number of gardens in Ireland so far. For other species including Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare, their occurrence in gardens is very weather dependent an you might see a big influx if we get snow or heavy frost in the coming weeks. The Pheasant hunting season is over for another year now too, so this may mean a wandering Pheasant might turn in your garden yet - taking advantage of any seed spilled beneath your feeders. If we get a mild February, you might start to see some territorial behaviour and birds leaving your garden as they start thinking about finding somewhere to nest. Don't forget that now is the perfect time to put up a nestbox in your garden! We've got a wide selection of nestboxes available in our shop, and by buying from us you're also helping support or vital conservation work!
The Irish Garden Bird Survey is BirdWatch Ireland's longest-running survey and is vital in tracking the fortunes of Ireland's garden bird species through the harsh winter months.
The survey is sponsored by the Ballymaloe Group.