Fill up your feeders: it’s time for Big Garden Birdwatch 2017!

Jenny Shelton

Friday 27 January 2017

Fill up your feeders: it's time for RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2017!

  • World's largest wildlife survey to take place over three days for the first time
  • More people have registered to take part than ever before
  • Irruption' of waxwings this winter means these unusual birds may be seen in gardens

More than half a million people are expected to watch and count their garden birds for this year's Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB.

The world's largest garden wildlife survey, now in its 38th year, takes place on 28, 29 and 30 January 2017. The public is asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local public space, then send their results to the RSPB.

In our increasingly urban world, ensuring there is still room for wildlife is key to the survival of many familiar species. RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch provides valuable information about the wildlife using our gardens in winter, enabling the RSPB to monitor trends and declines. It is also a chance to take time to appreciate the nature on our doorsteps.

Last year over half a million people counted more than eight million birds - and even more are expected to take part this year, with more people registering in 2017 than ever before.

In response to demand, for the first time this year the Birdwatch will take place over three days, including the Monday, giving workers the opportunity to take a screen break and participate from their office gardens.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: "With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with over 30 years worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are faring. With results from so many gardens, we are able to create a 'snapshot' of the birds visiting at this time of year across the UK. Even if you see nothing during your Big Garden Birdwatch hour, that's important information too, so please let us know."

Last year the house sparrow retained its position at the top spot, with the starling and blue tit rounding off the top three. For the first time in eight years, the long-tailed tit flew into the top 10 most commonly-seen birds. However the song thrush, once a common garden visitor, experienced another drop, revealing a decline of 70 per cent since the Birdwatch began.

This year, if the cold snap persists, we could see more unusual birds appearing in UK gardens. This winter, there have been reports of waxwings arriving in their hundreds along the east coast, and dispersing as far west as Wales and Ireland, in search of berries. These attractive birds with a black eye stripe and punk-like crest only visit the UK every 7-8 years (known as an 'irruption') when food is scarce in their native Scandinavia. Look out for other Scandinavian visitors such as redwing and fieldfare also making the most of our bumper berry crop.

As well as counting winged garden visitors, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year, such as grass snakes, hedgehogs, stag beetles, stoats and moles.

Daniel added: "Our wildlife is facing a tough time. For example it is estimated that we've lost more than half of our hedgehogs in the last 50 years. We're going to include this part of the survey every year now, enabling us to monitor the distribution of our other wildlife as well as trends in bird numbers."

David Wembridge, Mammal Surveys Co-ordinator, People's Trust for Endangered Species, said: "Mammals are a less showy lot than birds, but their presence in gardens is as important a measure of the natural value of these green spaces. Recording wildlife, in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch, gives us a connection to our wild neighbours, particularly those we might overlook."

Dr Fiona Mathews, Chair of The Mammal Society, said: "Gardens can offer fantastic habitat for wild mammals, simply leave things a bit untidy and watch what happens. For example, a bramble patch and a pile of fallen leaves can provide a good nesting site for hedgehogs, while bats will feed on night-flying insects attracted to blackberry flowers."

Dr John Wilkinson from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), said: "It's great to see that the Big Garden Birdwatch is again recording species such as grass snakes and slow-worms, whose habitats are declining in the wider countryside. Slow-worms are a gardener's friend: you can encourage them into your garden by having a compost heap which is left undisturbed over the summer so they can give birth there - they will repay you by demolishing your slugs! If you're lucky, grass snakes may even use your heap for egg-laying."

Big Garden Birdwatch is part of the RSPB's Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK's wildlife. Gardens provide invaluable resources for many species, especially in urban areas where natural habitats are disappearing. The RSPB is asking people to invite wildlife into their own gardens, balconies and outside spaces - whether by putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs and newts or planting a window box for bees. Wherever you live, you can help give nature a home.

To take part in Big Garden Birdwatch 2017, watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only count the birds that land in your garden or local park, not those flying over. Tell us the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time - not the total you see in the hour.

Register and download your free Big Garden Birdwatch pack at: rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Results will be published in March 2017.

The parallel event, Big Schools' Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term, 3 January - 17 February 2017. Further information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch

Editor's notes:

1. Great news for Big Garden Birdwatch 2017: in response to many requests received over the years we will be trialling extending the weekend to include Monday 30th January. We're hoping this will allow even more people to take part and spend an hour counting the birds in their park or garden, adding to the snapshot of how they are doing. Each year we are asked whether people can take part on the Monday if they are busy over the weekend. From a science perspective, the addition of an extra day, will still provide a 'sample' of the birds visiting our gardens at that time of year. The important thing is that the general period of the survey itself has remained the same, and there's no reason that the number of birds recorded on a Monday will be any different to those at the weekend. The extra day should provide a chance for more people to take part adding even more data for analysis.

2. 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch results:

Rank

Species

Average per garden

% of gardens species found in 2016

% average per garden change since 1979

1

House sparrow

4.2

61.6

-57.8

2

Starling

2.9

39

-80.8

3

Blue tit

2.8

78.9

+15.2

4

Blackbird

2.5

88.3

-38.2

5

Woodpigeon

2.3

76.9

+1051.5

6

Goldfinch

1.7

31.5

NA

7

Chaffinch

1.6

42.7

-45.9

8

Great tit

1.6

59.6

+78.4

9

Robin

1.4

84

-29.9

10

Long-tailed tit

1.2

26.7

NA

11

Collared dove

1.1

44.1

+305

12

Magpie

1.1

52.1

+172.7

13

Dunnock

0.9

45.9

NA

14

Jackdaw

0.7

19.5

NA

15

Coal tit

0.7

34.8

+272.9

16

Carrion crow

0.6

24.3

NA

17

Feral pigeon

0.6

16.2

NA

18

Greenfinch

0.6

19.9

-44.3

19

Common gull

0.3

8.3

NA

20

Wren

0.3

26.8

NA

3. In 2014, as a new part of the Big Garden Birdwatch, the RSPB asked participants to tell us about some of the other animals in their garden. This year we're asking people to look for: fox, grass snake, hedgehog, slow worm, stoat, stag beetle, great crested newt and mole. Participants probably won't see these creatures during their hour watching - since hedgehogs, grass snakes and slow worms should be hibernating now. And not all on the list are found everywhere in the UK. But we'd like to know if any have visited their garden or local park in the last year and, if so, how often. The RSPB will share the non-bird results with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC), People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and The Mammal Society to add to their species databases.

4. The RSPB's Giving Nature a Home campaign is aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK's threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces - whether it's putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs and toads or building a home for a hedgehog. You can create your own personal plan and give nature a home near you at rspb.org.uk/myplan

5. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Big Garden Birdwatch