Watch the birdie
At the end of January every year, more than half a
million people make a cup of tea and watch thebirds in their
gardens. This time, ornithologists might be swapping Darjeeling for
something stronger as the Big Garden Birdwatch spreads its wings to
It is the perfect excuse. Nip down the pub, order a pint and
take a comfy pew while helping to protect the nation’s
In fact, it sounded so idyllic, the RSPB decided to extend their
annual Big Garden Birdwatch to beer gardens across the nation.
“We thought pubs would be a great place for people to sit and
complete their survey,” said the RSPB’s Nichola Willett. “By the
end of January, we’re often feeling a little fed up and a trip to
the pub may be on the agenda. So the opportunity to settle down by
a window with a glass of something to watch and count the birds,
could be just the excuse we need.”
The charity has devised the Quiz in a Box fundraising pack for
landlords wanting to encourage families for the event, which runs
over Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27.
Now in its 34th year, the Big Garden Birdwatch provides the RSPB
with an important snapshot of garden bird populations in winter and
has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in UK garden birds.
“More than 20,000 people in Kent took part in the survey last year
and if we can top that this year, we will have an even better idea
of how our birds are doing,” said RSPB Northward Hill’s Rolf
“The more people that take part, the clearer the picture we can
paint about what’s happening to our garden birds so that we know
which ones need our help the most.”
To take part, budding spotters just need to download the form
from the website and spend an hour over the Big Garden Birdwatch
weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in
their chosen garden, park or beer garden. They then have three
weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at
www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post.
“Whether you have seen several exotic species or just a few of
the commonest birds, it doesn’t matter – all sightings are useful
to us,” said RSPB officer Don Fuller.
“This is an opportunity to take part in something huge.”
Bird trends - The winners
Wood pigeons and collared doves continue to be the two biggest
winners. They can now be seen in more than half of gardens.
The tit family has proved to have the greatest staying power.
Blue, great and long-tailed tits have all staked their claim in the
Big Garden Birdwatch top 15 with regular appearances each year.
However, the coal tit did slip down to No16 last year.
Colourful goldfinches have crept up the rankings and in recent
years have been a familiar sight in the top 15. They are now found
in a third of Big Garden Birdwatch gardens.
Bird trends - The losers
House sparrows and starlings continue to be the biggest losers
by far. Despite battling with each other to be top of the Big
Garden Birdwatch table for the past 30 years, fewer of them are
living in gardens.
You might be asking how they can be doing so badly if they’re
the most common birds in gardens? The answer is house sparrows and
starlings are very sociable. They like to hang out in big groups
and 30 years ago, those groups would have numbered 10 sparrows and
15 starlings – these days it is more like three or four. Numbers of
blackbirds, chaffinches, greenfinches and robins have also dropped
significantly in the last 30 years.
Get the most out of bird watching
Try making a recycled bird feeder using a plastic bottle,
yoghurt pots or milk cartons (make sure they are clean). You will
also need scissors, wire or string and bird seed.
- Cut a hole in the side big enough for a free flow of seeds, but
in such a way that it won’t all fall out and won’t get wet.
- Make a few small holes in the bottom of the feeder to allow any
rainwater to drain away.
- Hang it with wire, or strong string, from a tree or your
- If the feeder starts to wear out or the food in it goes mouldy,
recycle it and make another one.
- Remember to keep feeders well stocked, especially in winter.
Birds come to rely on them and will go hungry if you forget.
Schools can join in too
The RSPB also uses information collected by pupils from primary
schools in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham, Gillingham, Longfield and
Rochester. Last year, 62 schools in the county took part in the
nationwide Big Schools Birdwatch, with a total of 3,076 Kent
children taking part.
“As well as contributing to our understanding of the changes in
bird numbers, Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a brilliant way of
connecting young people with nature by getting them interested and
excited about what they can see through the classroom window,” said
“It’s all too easy for them to miss those opportunities to get
outside and understand the world around them. Big Schools‘
Birdwatch gives children the chance to step up for nature.”
You can get involved by downloading a form and
submitting your results to www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is on Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and
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