Last weekend was the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch weekend. About half a million of us spend one hour recording the highest number of each species we see in our gardens. This annual survey is now in its 41st year and provides a citizen science snapshot of the range of species and the levels of populations of the birds visiting our gardens across the UK.
Our Big Garden Bird Watch results were a little on the minimalist side this year. House Sparrow 4; Starling 2; Jackdaw 2.
I was pleased to see House Sparrow topping the BGBW charts as I was submitting my results online afterwards. It was good to see our starlings during our hour’s observation too.
As someone who has been a keen birdwatcher since I was a child, I have to keep reminding myself that both of these species, the house sparrow and the starling, are red-listed these days. That means they are Birds of Conservation Concern here in the UK, where the species population has reduced by 50% in the last 25 years.
‘Our’ house sparrows nest in the roof and we were delighted to see them raise two broods of youngsters during last spring and summer. The starlings nest in a nearby roof but always drop by on winter days to feed in our backyard.
So whilst I didn’t record many birds, of the ones I did see, two species are much rarer than we’d like. Our homes and gardens really do play a significant role in providing nesting sites and food sources for birds and many other creatures.
Did you take part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch over the weekend? We did and I’d said last week I’d let you know what we saw for this annual wildlife survey. Though as expected, there were no unusual sightings for us, just our normal jackdaws.
Our first attempt at the Big Garden Bird Watch was cut short after being hijacked by a black and white cat! It sneaked into the yard and suddenly appeared on the window ledge! What?! I can’t record a feline fiend for the Big Garden Bird Watch!
Fortunately our second attempt followed a rather more normal pattern. The bird food is put out. The boisterous jackdaws descend from their rooftop hangouts. We frantically count them as they swoop and jostle each other for a position on the wall where the food is waiting.
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” we chorus as the jackdaws land in turn.
“Did you get the one on the roof?”
“No, just the two on the fence.”
“There was the one on the post too.”
“There’s one on the tree – well, it’s on the window ledge now actually.”
When most of the pastry and cheese shreds have been devoured, the black cloud lifts. Individual birds then return from time to time to seek out any leftovers. The porridge oats and fruit are less popular with the jackdaws. Sometimes we see blackbirds, house sparrows and dunnocks, so we try and cater for all tastes. But none of the others put in an appearance during our Big Garden Bird Watch hour this year.
Today I added our survey tally to the RSPB’s results web page. I don’t mind that we usually only end up recording jackdaws for the Big Garden Bird Watch because we see so many other wild birds nearby to us every day.
If you’re a UK-based nature watcher like me you’re probably also getting organised for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend, 25/26 January 2014. This is the world’s largest wildlife survey!
We’ve taken part in this national annual spot check on the health (or otherwise) of our garden bird populations for a quite a few years now. I found it was a great way to introduce our boys to birdwatching when they were still very young.
In those days everything still came by post. So there would always be a build-up to this event when the Big Garden Bird Watch information arrived, which included a handy A4 bird ID poster. For years for our younger children we had an ‘original’ 2003 bird ID poster stuck at child height on the kitchen wall.
Nowadays everything is online and taking part is really easy whether you’re ‘just’ an adult or if you’re making it a family activity. Anyone can take part. As the RSPB explains:
“Watch the birds in your garden or local green space for one hour during the Birdwatch weekend. Record the highest number of species you see at any one time, rather than totalling them up over the hour, as you may record the same bird twice.”
… yes, if you don’t have a garden, you can do your bird watch in any nearby green space.
This year you can even record your sightings on your laptop, tablet or smartphone using the new timer facility. We will probably stick with pencil and paper as usual and then submit our results online afterwards. The results need to be submitted by 16 February 2014.
Because this survey is so big … an amazing 590,000 people took part and counted over 8 million birds last year … the data from it really is useful. Bird populations are a good indicator of wider wildlife health in our countryside.
All the information about the Big Garden Birdwatch is on the RSPB website so if you’re in the UK why not try and spare an hour over this weekend to take part?