Many thanks to our guest blogger Colette Cotton from St Mary's Church of England Primary School, Folkestone. Colette has been doing the Big Schools' Birdwatch as part of a larger 'World Birdwatch' scheme that she runs in school, enabling links with schools across the globe. You can read more about her planned timetable of events for the scheme here. Here's how her school got on during the Big Schools' Birdwatch 2013:
Our two year 3 classes have had a fantastic week 'Bird Watching'. They decided to gather some real relevant data to the support the 'Data Handling' aspect of numeracy and what better subject than 'Bird Watch'
The 50+ pupils were divided into 3 groups on Tuesday 22nd January, with one group going to visit Folkestone Fishing Harbour, another to the 'Warren' at Folkestone and a 3rd group to our large school field which has a small wooded area, with a bird table, a webcam, a polytunnel and plenty of several large trees.
The pupils were well wrapped up as it was only 1c outside & snowy. Armed with clipboards and recording sheets they set off. The photos attached are from the 'Fishing harbour" where some of the boats had recently come in with their catch...so Herring Gulls were everywhere.
This is some of the bird work that we did in Computer club this week...the group had been asked to look out for birds during the weekend and then on the computer they had to :
Our after school club of 'Funkey Monkeys' pupils (age 4 to 11) spent several evenings on bird art with pastels, lego, pulses and rice.
We then made string bird feeders with lard, apricots, cheese, muesli, raisins and peanuts. They really didn't like the smell & the texture of the lard but thought the peanut butter was scrummy! Then they hung up their feeders and learned to be really quiet when near the bird's habitat, which is near our polytunnel and our chickens.
Jenny Grant, Main Leader for the RSPB’s SkyeLarks Wildlife Explorer Group on the Isle of Skye, tells us about the groups’ experience doing their Big Garden Birdwatch in partnership with a local care home.
After making sure all the feeders were topped up for the birds at Home Farm Care Home in Portree, we played some games to help us get to know our birds. The SkyeLarks took up this challenge well, like they always do, and were soon ready to do the Big Garden Birdwatch for real. Our six young SkyeLarks, parents and leaders all used their binoculars to see what birds were in the Care Home grounds. We saw 3 brilliant blackbirds, 6 noisy house sparrows, 2 grumpy robins, 3 mimicking starlings, 3 cheery chaffinches, 1 little coal tit and a bright flash as a goldfinch landed on a tree in the garden. We learnt all about survey techniques and how to avoid double counting. Our results were submitted to the RSPB via their website. They said to us ' We hope you enjoyed Big Garden Birdwatch 2013 - the world's biggest wildlife survey! Your results will help us learn more about garden birds. Thank you. Your count will be combined with those from thousands of other gardens around the UK, and after our scientists have done some serious number-crunching, we'll be publishing the results on our website at the end of March.' Well done SkyeLarks :-) After patiently recording the birds, the SkyeLarks needed their toes warmed up. Luckily for us, the care home put on a spread of hot chocolate, crisps, cake, juice and more for us. It was really fantastic. Thanks again to Home Farm for allowing us to use their grounds and for this brilliant feast afterwards.
Thank you to everyone who has done their Big Schools' Birdwatch over the last two weeks! Don't worry if you've been delayed doing yours because of the snow, that's OK as you have until the 17 Feb to submit your results.
If you haven't submitted your results yet, then you can do so here, and don't forget that even if you saw nothing at all we need to know about it. We need to know where birds are, and where they aren't!
Once the deadline has closed we'll count all the data and select the winning schools at random for our prize draw, the results will be announced on this blog, so make sure you keep checking back!
Every school that has submitted their results will then receive a letter outlining our findings, with a certificate for taking part, at the end of March.
Submit your results
Guest blog written by Dr Mark Boyd, RSPB Interim Head of Youth and Education, explaining some lesser known facts about the magpie.
The magpie could be the most misunderstood bird in the UK. Look closely and you’ll see that magpies aren’t even simply black and white! Many of their feathers have an iridescent sheen, so in good light you will see greens, blues and purples shining from a magpie’s magnificent tail.
People notice magpies. They are loud, easy to identify and see, are bold and they have increased in numbers across the UK. This increase has been for three main reasons: far fewer of them are killed by people trying to protect their commercial interests, such as pheasant rearing; there is much more food around thanks to road kill; and the way we look after garden habitats such as hedgerows really favours the way magpies search for food.
For much of the year, magpies are vegetarian, eating fruits and seeds, but they will also take road kill and sometimes visit bird tables. Like many other birds, in spring, they switch to a higher-protein diet, such as eggs and chicks of other wild birds. This can be distressing to witness, but a magpie seen during the day often gets the blame for deeds carried out by a domestic cat at night!
Magpies have long been seen as unlucky in folklore (hence all the variations on “One for sorrow, two for joy”), and have been assumed to have all sorts of evil motives for some of their behaviour, especially where it relates to eating eggs and chicks of garden birds. In truth, magpies are just resourceful survivors that taking advantage of habitats and foods that we have unwittingly provided.
You are most likely to see a lone magpie in April or May. This may signify bad luck to some people, but it usually means good luck for the magpie. The other magpie of the pair will be sitting on its eggs or brooding its chicks in a big dome-shaped nest high in a tree. If you see a group of magpies in the spring, they are almost certainly non-breeders – probably young birds who didn’t manage to oust a sitting pair. Sometimes in winter as many as 200 magpies gather to spend the night together. These gatherings, called conventicles, tidings, murders or even titterings, can be full of chatter, and may help them sort out who pairs with whom for the spring.
Magpies are intelligent birds that have a reputation for stealing things. They do seem to like shiny trinkets and often decorate their nests with sweet wrappers, bits of foil, old spoons or even jewellery if they can find it. No one is entirely sure why they do it, but it may be an indication of status: the more time for bling, the fitter the bird!
Guest blog written by Barrie Cooper, International Education Manager
Are there any berries on the trees and bushes in your school grounds? If so, then they are going to be very welcome food in these cold conditions for blackbirds and thrushes. But a really special bird to look out for is the waxwing. This charismatic bird breeds in the taiga forests of Scandinavia and Russia. Small numbers of waxwings migrate to the UK every Autumn, but when there is a shortage of rowan berries in their breeding grounds unusually high numbers will head south for the winter – this is called an irruption. These only happen every few years and this winter has been an irruption year as there has been several thousand across the UK. Waxwings love berries and can eat between 600 and 1000 in a day; this is twice their body weight. They also eat other fruit such as apples, but its berries, particularly rowan and rose hips that they like to gorge on. Although they also eat insects and flowers, over 80% of their diet is fruit. No other bird in Europe is such a dedicated fruit eater. One of the great things about waxwings is that you are more likely to see them in your school grounds, garden or supermarket car park than out in the countryside. The ornamental planting of berry bearing trees in urban and suburban areas definitely helps to bring this bird close to people – that’s why schools can be great places to see them. They can be easy birds to see when they are eating their favourite berries.
Two years ago, my local school in Sandy recorded them on their Big Schools Birdwatch and, with so many in the country now, there will be several schools that will record them this year. I took these photos outside my house on January 15, so it’s likely that my local school will record them again if they are lucky. Keep a look out for this beautiful creamy brown bird with a crest around your local area and during Big Schools Birdwatch. They are a similar size to starlings and can easily be mistaken for them – just look out for the crests! Just in case you are wondering why they are called waxwings, it’s because they have some feathers on their wings that are tipped with a red substance that looks like the red wax that is sometimes used for sealing official documents.