The joy of counting garden birds

David Chapman / 14 January 2016

With the 100th species of bird recently seen in his garden, wildlife expert David Chapman explains the joy of recording garden bird numbers.

My wife Sarah and I have lived in the same house, in Cornwall, for more than twenty years. As well as having a garden we are fortunate enough to have a smallholding of around five acres on which we try to promote wildlife.

A rewarding pastime 

As a keen birdwatcher I have kept a diary of unusual bird sightings and a list of all the birds I have seen on, or from, our land. In 2015 I reached a major landmark with my one hundredth bird species. The list includes a good range of scarce species, the rarest of all was a purple heron some fifteen years ago.

Our commonest garden bird is the house sparrow, a fact which might not seem noteworthy but given that it took about four years to see our first one I take considerable pride in the fact that they now reside in the nest boxes which I built for them under our eaves.

Seeing uncommon birds on our land always gives me a buzz but I get longer term-satisfaction from seeing the blackbirds feeding on the berries of the pyracantha that I not only planted but also grew from a cutting.

Find out what to plant to encourage birds.  

I like to see the goldfinches balancing on the teasels which we allow to grow in our flower beds and I love watching the tawny owls fledging young from a nest box at the edge of our wood.

One day in the autumn I was on the phone to my mum, staring out of the upstairs window. A large bird with an unfamiliar shape flapped lazily high in the sky. I put the phone on loudspeaker and picked up my binoculars. I don't think my mum noticed any change in our conversation until I shouted "short-eared owl!"

Keeping lists of birds seen in the garden can be great fun and can even contribute to our understanding of their behaviour and distribution. New Year is the best time to start, the challenge is to keep it up for a year and see how many birds you can spot. 

If you want a shorter-term goal then try taking part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch during the weekend of January 30 and 31 2016. 

Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch is the world's largest wildlife survey and plays a big part in understanding changing bird species numbers over the years. The 2016 count takes place January 30-31. Find out more on the RSPB website.

Read David Chapman's tips for photographing garden birds.

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