The Big Garden Birdwatch is this weekend!
Take part for one hour between 26–28 January and let the RSPB know what wildlife you see in your garden.
As well as being a vital way for the RSPB to keep track of our garden wildlife, the world’s largest garden wildlife survey is also a great way to get to know your garden birds. Here are just a few of the species you could see.
Look out for thrushes in your garden. From left to right: song thrush, blackbird and mistle thrush.
Blackbirds are one of the most familiar sights in most UK gardens, but did you know that the blackbirds in your garden could be migrants? The birds you see in winter could have come from far and wide. While many of our breeding birds hardly move at all at any time of year, some actually migrate. The blackbird in your garden may have come from another part of the UK, or could even be from Scandinavia.
Song thrush are down in number by more than two-thirds since the survey began. Song thrushes are smaller and browner than the rarer mistle thrush. Both are in decline.
Woodpigeons (left) and collared doves are an increasingly common sight in UK gardens.
Suburbia-loving collared doves are up more than 300% since early Big Garden Birdwatch tallies. These pretty- pinkish-brown doves colonised the UK from the continent in the 1950s and are doing well.
Woodpigeons have taken advantage of changing crop-sowing regimes to prosper on farmland, matched by a whopping 1,000% increase in garden sightings.
Clockwise from top left: goldfinch, chaffinch, siskin and greenfinch.
Look out for chaffinches. Despite being one the most widespread birds in the UK, half as many chaffinches visit our gardens compared with records more than three decades ago.
Pretty-plumaged goldfinches, which have developed a taste for nyjer seeds and sunflower hearts, brighten our bird tables in increasing numbers. They have risen more than 44% over the last decade alone.
As with chaffinches, half as many greenfinches visit our gardens compared with records more than three decades ago. They have been particularly hard hit by the spread of a fatal parasitic disease, trichomonosis.
The charming siskin, a yellow, green and black finch, first took to bird tables in the 1960s and hasn’t looked back, climbing into the Big Garden Birdwatch top 20 in 2008.
Clockwise from top left: coal tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit, great tit.
Tiny in jewel like, these bright blue tits can be seen hanging upside down to take food from feeders.
Duller and greyer than the blue tit, coal tits may join other roving flocks in winter.
Larger great tits can be distinguished by their bold black chest stripe.
Long-tailed tits - tiny round balls of fluff with long, narrow tails - have learned to take advantage of our seed mix and suet hand-outs in recent years and are now among the commonest sightings recorded during the winter count.
Green woodpeckers (left) and great spotted woodpeckers will visit garden feeders.
Green woodpeckers and great spotted woodpeckers will both frequent gardens and parks. The great spotted woodpecker has become a far more regular Big Garden Birdwatch visitor.
Other bird species
Dunnocks (left) and wrens are hard to see concealed among hedgerows and shrubs.
The tiny wren is more often heard than seen. Winter is a great time to spot them as the cover they often conceal themselves in dies back.
Like the wren, dunnocks are small, solitary birds.They are easier to see in winter when foliage dies back.
While the house sparrow still tops the Big Garden Birdwatch chart as the species we are most likely to spot from our kitchen windows, flocks are now far fewer in number – down by more than half since the annual survey of backyard birds began. A range of factors are thought to be responsible, from reduced nesting sites to a lack of invertebrate food for growing chicks.
Beautiful magpies may appear black and white at first, but look closer and you’ll catch a glimpse of a purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing and a green gloss on the tail. Magpie have been on the up in our gardens.
Clockwise from top left: house sparrow, blackcap, pied wagtail and nuthatch.
An exciting addition to any garden, the handsome nuthatch is recognisable by its blue-grey and whitish colouring and its stark black eye stripe. Look for them scurrying up and down tree trunks.
Black-and-white pied wagtails are often seen in towns and parks. You’d be very lucky to see their riperian relative, the grey wagtail, in your garden - while yellow wagtails are a summer visitor.
The much-loved robin could well make an appearance in your Big Garden Birdwatch. Look for them on perches defending their territories or feeding on the ground.
Boisterous starlings, with their freckled plumage and slightly streetwise demeanour, may appear as common as ever, and consistently feature among the top 10 species recorded. But they have suffered an alarming decline of nearly 80% since 1979. This figure matches the findings of other national bird surveys and shows that the abundant can never be taken for granted.
Clockwise from top left: magpie, starling, ring-necked parakeet and robin.
Winter visitors to our bird tables have been joined by an unusual addition over recent decades: the blackcap. This grey-brown warbler is widespread during the spring and summer, and can be recognised by its distinctive cap, which is black in males, and chestnut-brown among females. More than a million pairs breed in the UK, staking out territories with rich, fluty song before departing our shores and heading south through France to enjoy a little winter sun in Spain, Portugal and north and west Africa.
However, over the last half century increasing numbers have been recorded here during the colder months. Big Garden Birdwatch records show that by 2006, blackcaps were turning up in 10% of gardens, mainly in the southern half of England and Wales.
Even more remarkable are increasing records of non-native ring-necked parakeets in England. They're the descendants of escaped cage birds and are spreading out from London stronghold. They could become less of a novelty further afield in the years to come.
Also look out for gulls, raptors, owls and even the odd grey heron!
The RSPB also want to know about the other wildlife you see during your Big Garden Birdwatch. Are there frogs and toads about in your pond? Perhaps a few mice busy in the flowerbeds? You could get lucky like Mark and even see a weasel!
What we hope to see
Anna Scrivenger, Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"Usually we have a decent flock of long-tailed tits in our garden at this time of year, but this winter I haven’t seen a single one, which is a worry. So if any show up during the Birdwatch I’d be very relieved.
"Last month we spotted a sparrowhawk perching on our garage roof, so it’d be amazing if she reappeared during the count! We also have a wren somewhere in the garden – often heard but rarely glimpsed. With less cover in winter I’ve seen him a few times, and hope that he shows up during the watch, too.
"I think I’ll reliably get all our usual suspects: dunnocks, goldfinches, robins, chaffinches, great tits, blue tits, coal tits, starlings, jackdaws and magpies. Less-frequent visitors include a song thrush (which appeared in the final minute of last year’s count!), bullfinches, rooks, a pair of blackcaps, a green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker, so any of these would cause much jubilation.
"The one bird I’ve never seen in our garden is the house sparrow – even though it’s literally the no.1 most-spotted bird of the Birdwatch! I don’t know why they’re shunning my garden, but am glad they’re doing well everywhere else!"
Alun Harris, Senior Art Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"We get a good flock of goldfinches in my garden, so I'm hoping we'll get them turning up for the Big Garden Birdwatch. In the past I've also seen a little owl, a barn owl and a grey heron that completely emptied my pond of fish!"
Ellen Wade, Group Account Director, RSPB magazines
"I live by the river so am hoping to see cormorants, coots and maybe even a heron. I hope to see some long-tailed tits if I am lucky."
Emma Pocklington, Deputy Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"House sparrows abound in Bristol, so I'm hoping the local flock sets down in my garden. And I’m hoping for a cheeky pied wagtail, too."
Find out more about the Big Garden Birdwatch in our guide.
Photos: Chris Gomersall, Andy Hay, Ben Hall, Tom Marshall, Ray Kennedy, John Bridges, Paul Chesterfield, Grahame Madge, Ben Andrew (all rspb-images.com)
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