The world’s largest wildlife survey celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, so spare just an hour of your time to take part and make this an absolute bumper year!
The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch started life as an activity for the junior branch of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), and over the years has grown to become a huge and immensely important Citizen Science survey carried out by over half a million people. Decades of results has shown up important trends that have started alarm bells ringing loudly: two now well-known examples are sparrow populations that have plummeted by more than half and starlings by three-quarters. On the plus side, blue tits have increased by 20 per cent. As the climate warms, some birds – such as blackcaps – have ceased to migrate from some areas and remain in gardens year-round. The 2018 survey saw more sightings of smaller birds – finches and tits – with many more sightings of goldfinches in particular. Our gardens are becoming immensely important as habitats for birds.
- To take part, register on the RSPB website. Here you’ll also find lots more useful information about identifying birds, how to attract them to your garden and the species that you’re most likely to see.
- Your one-hour bird count can be done anytime over the three days. In my garden I find the most activity is during the first couple of hours of daylight and then from mid-afternoon until dusk, particularly if it’s been a cold night, as birds stock up with food before and after dark. Sunshine makes it easier to pick out the colours of different birds, and with the sun lower in the sky at these times of day, birds can be seen with greater clarity.
- Choose a comfortable spot indoors with a good view of the garden and pen and paper to hand (some refreshments won’t go amiss either). Binoculars are great if you have them, but not essential. Then simply start watching and counting.
- The aim is to record the maximum number of the same types of bird you see during the hour, to avoid counting the same bird several times and ending up with false results!
- Then, simply submit your results to the RSPB, either online, or you can request a paper form to send in by post.
In the subsequent weeks the gigantic task of collating and analysing all the data is carried by hundreds of RSPB staff and volunteers. Last year over six and a half million birds were counted, so it’s no wonder it takes a little while for the results to be published!
I love doing the Big Garden Birdwatch as, despite watching the birds in my garden as an integral part of every day, I’m not good at sitting still for any length of time, so some ‘enforced’ bird watching is wonderful! And every year turns up interesting results, like birds seen in passing that I’d thought were chaffinches but were actually bramblings and a siskin that had unobtrusively turned up in a flock of goldfinches.