The big garden birdwatch

David Chapman

Wildlife writer and photographer, David Chapman, on why we should all take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch



The recent cold weather has sent birds flocking into my garden and I imagine that the same is true all around the country.

Watching birds in the garden is an entertaining way of spending time and brings more than sufficient reward for the cost and time involved in putting out food for them. What I think I enjoy most is the opportunity to see some of our most colourful birds close-to.

In recent years I have added information to my enjoyment of garden bird watching by taking part in a survey organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Each year, since 1979, the RSPB has collected data from the public to inform them of trends in bird populations.

Everyone can take part but first you have to understand the rules. The idea is that we all record the highest number of each species that we see at any one time during the one hour survey period. The survey can be undertaken at any time during the correct weekend in January.

To maximise the number of birds you see I suggest watching the birds early in the day when they are most active but don’t worry if you don’t see many birds, all survey information is equally valuable.

The number of entries sent in to the RSPB has risen from about 30,000 in 1979 to about 400,000 in recent years. The greater the number of participants the greater the value of the data collected and the more inferences we can read from it.

Over the years we have seen a marked decline in the number of song thrushes, house sparrows and starlings using gardens but other birds such as wood pigeon, collared dove, long-tailed tit and goldfinch have all increased. At the moment house sparrows and starlings still occupy the top two spots for the UK’s most common garden visitors but for how long will that last?

The internet has made a huge difference to the speed with which data can be uploaded and processed. We are now able to submit data online and even look for the results of the survey by county as well as nationally. For more information about the results from previous years and how to take part this year take a look at the RSPB website www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

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