Forty years and counting – RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place this weekend for landmark 40th year

Tuesday 22 January 2019

The RSPB is celebrating a very special anniversary of its world famous Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend (26-28 January).

  • More than eight million hours have been spent watching garden birds since the Birdwatch began in 1979, with more than 130 million birds counted
  • Taking part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey takes just one hour and provides the RSPB with an annual snapshot of how are birds are faring
  • The 2018 survey saw house sparrows overtaking starlings as the most-spotted bird in Northern Ireland, with chaffinches, goldfinches and blue tits making up the top five
  • The song thrush was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979 but by 2009 it had plummeted to 20th in the rankings

Just one hour every year for the last 40 years has made the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch the largest garden wildlife citizen science project. During that time, hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered their time providing the RSPB with more than eight million hours of monitoring garden birds.

Over the last four decades, 130 million birds have been counted - giving the RSPB real insight into how our birds are faring.

This year’s event takes place on 26, 27 and 28 January 2019. The RSPB is asking people to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then sign up online ( and send in their results. Around half a million people across the UK join in the Birdwatch every year.

In Northern Ireland, almost 15,000 people counted more than 100,000 birds last year. The top five birds spotted were (in order) house sparrows, starlings, chaffinches, goldfinches (up two places from 2017) and blue tits.

For four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world. It was first to alert the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers. The song thrush was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979. By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979, plummeting to 20th in the rankings

Claire Barnett, RSPB NI Conservation Team Leader, said: “The Big Garden Birdwatch reaching 40 years is a huge achievement and shows just how passionate people are about their wildlife. It’s just a great opportunity for people of all ages to connect with nature.

“The Birdwatch is a brilliant project that everyone can get involved in. Life can be so hectic, so it’s great to have a reason to sit back and relax with a cup of tea and just enjoy birds and garden wildlife for one hour, knowing that you’re contributing to the world’s largest garden wildlife survey.”

The survey has also shown increases in collared dove and wood pigeon numbers and alarming declines of starlings and house sparrows. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 57% (1979 – 2018), in the most recent decade (2009-2018) numbers appear to have increased by 17%.

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019, 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, not those flying over. Note the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

Once people record the birds that make a visit, they can quickly submit the results online at

The parallel event, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch runs from 2 January to 22 February. More than 60,000 schoolchildren spent an hour in nature counting birds in 2018.

Last Updated: Tuesday 22 January 2019

Tagged with: Topic: Birds Topic: Get involved Topic: Northern Ireland