Warmer winter is a boost for smaller garden birds.
THE mild winter has benefited smaller garden birds such as long-tailed tits, experts said after numbers increased this year in an annual survey.
Warmer weather leading up to the 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch in January helped boost numbers of long-tailed tits by 44% on last year, bringing them into the top 10 most commonly spotted birds for the first time in seven years.
Other small garden birds saw an increase, including coal tits, with sightings up by a quarter on 2015's count, and great tits, which were up almost 15%, the survey showed.
But the RSPB, which runs the Big Garden Birdwatch, warned many garden birds were still struggling.
More than 519,000 took part in the birdwatching event over a weekend in January, counting well over 8.2 million birds in hour-long surveys of their garden or local park.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, conservation scientist for the wildlife charity, said: "The increase in long-tailed tit sightings, along with other smaller garden birds, just goes to show that in the absence of very cold weather these species can survive the winter months in much greater numbers.
"The warmer temperatures have made it easier to find food, like insects, which in previous colder winters would have been harder to come by because of frosts and snow."
Small, insect-eating birds such as long-tailed tits are particularly susceptible to the cold so milder conditions are likely to have contributed to higher survival rates, the RSPB said.
The increase in sightings in gardens also highlights the importance of wellstocked bird feeders for some species, with longtailed tits only recently starting to use garden feeders, the charity said.
Despite the boost in numbers for some species, others continue to decline, the survey revealed.
Starlings - despite being the second most commonly recorded bird - saw another fall this year, bringing their reduction in numbers to more than 80% since the survey began in 1979, while song thrushes also saw a drop, bringing their long-term decline to 89%.
The bird found in most gardens, with sightings for almost nine out of 10 households taking part, was the blackbird, but it saw a 10% reduction in numbers on last year.
The most common bird was the house sparrow again this year, with around the same numbers as 2015.
There has been a 44% increase in sightings of long-tailed tits