Every year the RSPB run their Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January. They ask everyone to count the wildlife that’s counting on us! Last year they had around 500,000 people take part which is amazing. This is my third year and it’s always a lot of fun taking the time to watch the wild happening in our own gardens and contributing to conservation at the same time.
This year we actually took part in two garden birdwatches. Greedy I know!
On Saturday Alex and I headed down to my parents to join them in recording the birds in their garden. As they live in the middle of nowhere, near fields and woods with a large garden covered in trees and hedges, they always get quite a variety. Red kites (they were originally reintroduced locally) and woodpeckers are frequent visitors. My parents also shared a story with glee at how a sparrowhawk swooped in a few weeks ago stealing an unsuspecting songbird right from their bird table and preceding to eat it on their driveway.
We sat in the living room with a view of a bird table with feeders hanging off it, with sporadic sprints through to the kitchen to check the other feeders on a silver birch in the back garden. We were determined to count a red kite or two as they regularly swoop over the garden or sit in the tall trees. Both feeders are located quite far from the house so binoculars were required. So what did we see?
- 10 house sparrows
- 9 long-tailed tits
- 5 feral pigeons
- 4 blue tits
- 3 red kites
- 3 blackbirds
- 2 collared doves
- 2 great tits
- 1 robin
- 1 coal tit
- 1 magpie
As red kites (though expected) and long-tailed tits are amongst my favourite birds I was thrilled we managed to count them both in the hour. I also always enjoy seeing blue tits, especially the ones at my parents, as they have learnt how to climb down into the peanut feeder (when it’s half empty) and fly off with a whole peanut in their beak! Keeping up with the wide variety of birds flitting around the feeders through binoculars was quite a challenge. I was disappointed that the chaffinches, greenfinch and goldfinch we’d seen at my parents’ before Christmas didn’t turn up. There were no woodpeckers either. But you can’t have everything!
Then on Sunday we sat poised halfway between our own living room window and our kitchen window to get prime view of both gardens and feeding areas. This was a different experience as the feeders are close to our windows so we could spend more time just enjoying seeing the birds and their behaviour, minus binoculars. The resident house sparrows are always a joy to watch.
This time we saw:
- 14 house sparrows
- 7 starlings
- 4 carrion crows
- 2 feral pigeons
- 1 robin
- 1 blackbird
- 1 dunnock
- 1 woodpigeon
This was almost exactly as expected. We see our resident sparrows, dunnock and robin daily. I was amazed we managed to see 14 house sparrows all at once though flocking our bird feeder stand. They perched in the hedgerow waiting their turn or squabbling. A couple of full on fights between the boys broke out which was a delight to watch. It also made me stop and notice the lovely non-stop chorus of sparrow chirping and squawking that has simply become background noise to us. Sadly no song thrush this year. It’s also a shame we only saw one blackbird, as we usually have three. I think one of them might be the juvenile we saw growing up in our garden over the summer. It’s braver at eating from the ground feeder near the house than the others. The blackbird we saw was a female with a skewwhiff tail feather which gave her a comical appearance. She also threw birdseed everywhere. The robin was very intrusive constantly bouncing from feeder to feeder and the dunnock and sparrows were extra flighty in the wind.
It was interesting to see the difference between the birds in our small urban (but fairly wild) garden and that of my parents large rural garden. It seems that overall we tend to have far more sparrows and starlings hanging around our cul-de-sac whilst my parents usually have a riot of finches and tits. And red kites, of course, which have been known to land in their garden trying to steal raw meat from the dogs!
I love that the annual birdwatch is such an accessible and fun thing for everyone to do whilst learning more about our beautiful birds and contributing to conservation. It’s vital for us to understand the numbers of wild birds to assess their population numbers, the potential impacts on their numbers and explore how we can help protect them.
Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch? What did you see?
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