Why do a Big Garden Birdwatch?

Big Garden Birdwatch
Big Garden Birdwatch 2022

In 2021 – a year of pandemic, lockdowns and social anxiety many of the British Public sought solace in nature.  As well as taking to the great outdoors to enjoy our wild spaces more people than ever began to seek out and value the wildife that we share our countryside, and even our gardens, with.  This meant that a record number of individuals took part in the RSPB’s 2021 Big Garden Birdwatch. More than a million of us counted over 17 million birds as part of the annual survey. 

Several years before the first Big Garden Birdwatch took place in 1979 (it’s earliest incarnation was as a project promoted by children’s TV programme Blue Peter) I used to spend hours watching the bird table at my Nan’s house.  Great groups of starlings would compete for kitchen scraps and crusts and house sparrows would gather in noisy flocks for scattered bird seed. Using bodkin needles and wool we would thread peanuts in their shells together to hang from the bird table for the blue tits. It is shocking to think that since then the populations of both starling and house sparrow have decreased dramatically. If the public hadn’t started counting their garden birds and hadn’t kept counting them, we would know so much less about the scale of those declines. Despite the fact that the House Sparrow has topped the Big Garden Birdwatch results table for 18 years in a row their numbers are down 58%. Since 1979 we lost a staggering 83% of our starlings – and it’s still in the number 3 spot on the results table.

Starling on bird feeder
Starling on bird feeder

There have been success stories too – Blue tits are up 10% since the first survey, probably thanks to bird feeding and the provision of garden nestboxes and Goldfinches have seen a 10% increase in just the last decade. 

Counting our gardens birds (if we make sure we submit our results) helps contribute data about change. It enables conservation organisations to learn about population trends and flags up when those changes, particularly decreases, need further scientific investigation. It highlights the species that are in most trouble and where additional research is needed to explain the trends. It means resources can be targeted where they can be most effective. 

That’s probably reason enough to take part and add your own observations to those collected every year across the UK during the last weekend of January. Every additional set of results makes the ‘snapshot’ of our garden bird populations that little bit more accurate. 

Perhaps the Big Garden Birdwatch is also a chance for you to just be in the moment with your garden birds. Spending an hour just birdwatching. Slowing right down. Noticing the details. The beautiful peach flush of the coal tits in the sunshine, the incredible detail on the dunnock’s intricate and much overlooked plumage and just how quickly all the other birds retreat to let the woodpecker get first choice on the peanut feeder. 

Perhaps it’s an opportunity for parents and grandparents to squeeze an hour into the busy lives of their children and grandchildren. Sharing enthusiasm and knowledge or even learning about birds together. Maybe you will spark an interest that might just endure a lifetime. 

Perhaps it’s just good to be reminded that we share our gardens with a whole host of living things. That we care about them continuing to be there when we are watching and even when we are not.

My list – 13 species (plus in addition Buzzard and Carrion crow flying over) – January 30th 2022.

This morning I completed my own Big Garden Birdwatch. After breakfast I gathered binoculars, notebook and pencil and then I resisted the temptation to listen to the final of the Australian Open Tennis on the radio – preferring instead to listen to the birds and concentrate on the task in hand. (As it turns out the final lasted more than five times the length of my birdwatching hour – so there was plenty left to catch up on afterwards!)

  • Blackbird – 2
  • Blue tit – 7
  • Chaffinch – 3
  • Coal tit – 3
  • Dunnock – 2
  • Goldfinch – 4
  • Great spotted woodpecker – 1
  • Great tit – 2
  • Jackdaw – 2
  • Nuthatch – 1
  • Pheasant – 5
  • Robin – 2
  • Stock dove – 1

And remember in time – honoured Big Garden Birdwatch tradition the best spot of the day will take place 5 minutes after the official end of your Birdwatch. For me it was a flock of Long-tailed tits arriving late to the party.  Don’t cheat though. Just hope for better timing next year.