A MILD winter and a change in the food provided has led to some significant changes in the number and varieties of birds visiting the regions gardens.

According to the results of the RSPBs 2014 Big Garden Birdwatch, which involved almost 500,000 people across the UK counting birds on their patch over a one-hour period, some birds have dropped out of the top ten, while others are enjoying an increase in popularity.

In County Durham, for example, the robin did not figure in the top ten, while goldfinches rose by 13 places to eighth.

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The most popular bird was the house sparrow, with on average four per garden, the starling (3.02) was second and the blue tit (2.93) third.

In Tyne and Wear, starlings held the top spot with an average of 3.53 per garden, the magpie (1.19) was seventh and the feral pigeon (one) ninth.

In North Yorkshire, goldfinches rose 21 places to sixth (1.69), while the chaffinch was fifth (1.9) and house sparrows hold sway at number one with 4.46 per garden.

In Tees Valley, the top five remained the same - starling, house sparrow, blackbird, blue tit and woodpigeon - while the robin squeaked into the top ten.

Scientists believe that the weather has played a role in the ups and downs in this year's top ten as many of the birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions.

Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods, like worms and insects, in the countryside.

People putting out more exotic food, such as nyjer seed and sunflower hearts, are behind the rise of goldfinches, it is believed.

Its not all good news. Numbers of song thrushes in County Durham have fallen by 92 per cent, in Tees Valley by 93 per cent, 95 per cent in Tyne and Wear and 96 per cent in North Yorkshire.

Starlings are down 26 per cent in County Durham, in line with the national trend, but have recorded a four per cent rise in Tyne and Wear.

Both species are on the red list, meaning they are of highest concern to conservationists.

Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, said: "2014 was always going to be an interesting Big Garden Birdwatch as the winter has been so mild and we wondered if it would have a significant impact on garden birds.

"They were out and about in the wider countryside finding natural food instead of taking up our hospitality. The good news is that this may mean we have more birds in our gardens in the coming breeding season because more survived the mild winter.

"It is a great time to give nature a home by putting up a nesting box and supplementary feeding."

For more details visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes