The Big Garden Birdwatch 2020 Is Here!
Today’s the first day of the Big Garden Birdwatch 2020. The event run by the RSPB is the world’s biggest wildlife survey attracting nearly half a million participants each year.
This is the 41st Big Garden Birdwatch and it’s given the RSPB some amazing insights into our garden wildlife. For example, the Big Garden Birdwatch alerted the RSPB to the decline in population of the song thrush. In the 1970s it was a firm fixture in the Top 10 but by 2019 the numbers of song thrushes spotted in gardens had declined by 76% with this pretty little bird coming in at just number 20.
And despite the house sparrow and starling regularly holding the top two spots, results from the Big Garden Birdwatch have shown that their numbers in UK gardens have declined by 56% and 80% respectively since the count began.
It’s not been all bad news though. The number of great tits has increased by 68% since the first Big Garden Birdwatch, and in 2016 long-tailed tits flew into the Top 10 for the first time, with the average number visiting gardens increasing by 44%.
Variety, rarities, and oddities
There has also been a marked increase in the variety of birds seen in gardens. In the early years of the Big Garden Birdwatch the most common visitors were sparrows, dunnocks, chaffinches, robins, song thrushes, and blue tits. Now you can expect to see goldfinches, siskins, coal tits, and even blackcaps.
Changes in climate coupled with the popularity of feeding wild birds are two things that are thought to have had an impact on the different types of birds visiting gardens.
Big Garden Birdwatch participants have also recorded some rarities, including an American robin in Putney, a black-throated thrush on the Isle of Bute, a common rosefinch in Yorkshire, a little bunting in Gloucestershire, and a yellow-rumped warbler in Durham. These would have been vagrant birds that had been blown off course or even taken a wrong turn during migration and are unlikely to set up a permanent home in the UK anytime soon.
In 2017 there was a large increase in the number of waxwings spotted in UK gardens. Eleven times more of these colourful birds, which are usually found feasting on berries in Scandinavia during the winter, turned up in people’s gardens compared with the previous couple of years. Known as an irruption, the explosion in numbers occurs when winters in the waxwings’ usual breeding grounds of Finland and northern Russia are particularly harsh which leads to a shortage of food. The phenomenon also happened during the winters of 2010 and 2012.
Counting for conservation
The Big Garden Birdwatch isn’t all about birds. Since 2014 the RSPB has asked participants to let them know about other wildlife that visit their gardens. In 2019 about 66% of respondents said they had seen a hedgehog in the previous year while 75% had seen a frog and just under 50% had spotted a toad.
It’s really easy to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. Just pick an hour over the next 3 days, grab a cuppa and settle down to count the birds that visit your garden. If you don’t have a garden head to your nearest park or green space and do your count there.
Of course, Sod’s law says that the abundance of birds that regularly reside in your garden will decide to temporarily move next door for the hour you choose. But don’t worry, even if you don’t spot a single bird, the RSPB still wants to hear from you.
Update: we did our Birdwatch count on the morning of the 26th and are pleased to report that we saw 1 robin, 1 wren (massive win!), 5 or maybe 6 long-tailed tits (couldn’t count quick enough) and 5 pigeons. For a tiny roof terrace garden 3 floors up in central London we’re pretty pleased with that result.