The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place every year, and this year it is running from 26th–28th January. The largest garden wildlife survey in the world, this mega citizen science survey provides the RSPB with a picture of how our garden birds are faring. But it has massive benefits for you, too. Nature's Home columnist Simon Barnes explains...
The Big Garden Birdwatch encourages everyone to make a home for nature on their patch. Photo: Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The Big Garden Birdwatch helps the RSPB to monitor UK garden wildlife. Every submitted tally helps to monitor the fortunes of our favourite garden birds, highlighting the plight of species in trouble as well as those birds that are soaring in numbers or increasing in range.
“It is thanks to the data submitted by all those who take part that we are able to create a 'snapshot' of the birds visiting our gardens at this time of year across the UK,” says RSPB conservation scientist Dr Daniel Hayhow, whose job it is to analyse the influx of Big Garden Birdwatch data.
“This valuable information enables us to get a good indication of changing trends and how different bird species are doing when you compare their abundance and distribution over many years.”
The Big Garden Birdwatch is a great opportunity to get the family together, and to get kids hooked on nature. Photo: Rahul Thanki (rspb-images.com)
While the millions of bird records submitted to the Big Garden Birdwatch help plot trends in species’ populations, alongside other surveys, its value extends beyond data gathering by motivating people to make a difference and nurture nature – whether topping up feeders, putting up nest boxes or creating wildlife-friendly spaces.
“Gardens provide essential habitat for many species, and overall they add up to a vast area where we can make a difference by giving nature a home,” says Daniel. “When thousands of people are inspired to make small changes in their gardens to benefit wildlife, then it can really change the fortunes of an entire species.”
During the Big Garden Birdwatch you are one of around half a million citizen scientists: all of you setting aside any one hour on the same weekend to look at the birds and record them. Not only that, it’s been going on for 40 years: you are part of a historical process, one that’s still going on.
Take an hour for yourself, looking close up at our beautiful garden birds. You may see them with fresh eyes. Photo: Jenny Tweedie (rspb-images.com)
But doing the Big Garden Birdwatch could be beneficial for you, too. Taking time out from our busy lives to join in the Big Garden Birdwatch – to stop, look and discover – certainly feels like an hour well spent, and encouraging children to take part may also help foster a lifelong interest.
When you sit down to devote a full hour to the birds, you actually look at them. How blue the blue tits! How great the great tits! And then in comes a party of long-tailed tits, calling hard to each other, and you wonder why you don’t spend more time appreciating them. You may sit down with the intention of gifting an hour to the RSPB... but the hour is a gift for you as well.
Sitting still for a whole hour is a shocking experience for us 21st-century people, even when there aren’t any birds to look at. You concentrate, your mind wanders, you bring it back. The first 10 minutes feel like a day and half. But the next half-hour feels like no time at all – a single instant, or maybe infinity. Just you and the birds.
Why do we do the Big Garden Birdwatch?
Anna uses the Birdwatch as a learning opportunity for her children. Photo: Anna Scrivenger
Anna Scrivenger, Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"The Birdwatch is an annual event in our family, and we all look forward to it – it brightens up our January.
We put out lots of bird food over the winter to coax the birds in, so by the time the Birdwatch comes around, we always get a good mix of species – from rooks to wrens. We spotted more than 20 species last year, and always hope to improve on our records!
The kids help us count. It helps them learn about the wildlife in our garden, appreciate nature and feel empowered to help. And it supports their learning – it’s how they learned to keep a tally! But most of all, it’s a fun activity that brings our family together."
Emma Pocklington, Deputy Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"Unfortunately, my inner-city garden doesn't attract a lot of birds, despite my best efforts. For me, the Big Garden Birdwatch is all about keeping a watchful eye on our precious urban wildlife. Even if my result for the hour is zero birds, I will still send it in. It's just as important for the RSPB to know where our birds are not, as well as where they are. And if a passing pied wagtail or a wandering house sparrow should happen to make a fleeting visit, my day will be all the richer for it."
There's plenty to be seen in urban environments too, such as this pied wagtail. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Ellen Wade, Group Account Director, RSPB magazines
"I will be doing the Big Garden Birdwatch for the first time this year. I think it will be a great way for me to learn how to better identify the birds that come into my city garden. It will also help me learn to identify birds whenever I am out and about."
Alun Harris, Senior Art Editor, Nature's Home magazine
"I will be doing the Big Garden Birdwatch because, even though I live in the country, I don’t have a lot of time to see and appreciate the wildlife that can sometimes show up in our garden. It's also a good opportunity for me to spend some time with my teenage son."
Want to know more about the Big Garden Birdwatch? Take a look at our guide or sign up to take part.
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