This weekend (25-27 January), RSPB Scotland is celebrating over four decades of Big Garden Birdwatch, and asking people to join in with the citizen science project by dedicating just one hour of their time.
Last year over 32,000 people took part across Scotland, and house sparrows took the top spot for the 8th year running, being seen in 72% of gardens across the country. Long-tailed tits decreased by more than 10% and wrens by 17% in Scotland, possibly the populations of these tiny birds were still recovering after 2018’s Beast from the East. However, this year’s mild winter weather could see little garden visitors making a star as warmer conditions give smaller birds a booster chance of survival.
Smaller birds such as wrens and long-tailed tits suffer during long, bitter winters but the warmer January weather this year may well have been a boon. But will we see any differences in the birds being recorded in gardens for this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? Sometimes, warmer temperatures mean fewer birds come into gardens for food and shelter as conditions are good in the countryside – what will this year show?
To mark the event, RSPB Scotland is encouraging participants to share their Big Garden Birdwatch stories. How will you #BigGardenBirdWatch? will showcase some of the best examples of how people take part from building their own birdwatching den, baking birdseed cakes or doing it in their pyjamas.
Since the Birdwatch began hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered an hour of their time, and almost 140 million birds have been counted, helping RSPB Scotland to highlight some dramatic trends in garden birds. Our wildlife is having a tough time with the recent State of Nature report in 2019 revealing that 49% of Scottish species have decreased, and 11% have been classified as threatened with extinction from Scotland.
For four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted who is thriving and who is struggling in the garden bird world. It was one of the first surveys to alert the RSPB to the decline in the number of song thrushes in gardens. This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979 but 30 years later its numbers are less than half those recorded in 1979. Last year song thrushes were the 24th most seen bird in Scotland.
Keith Morton, RSPB Scotland senior species policy officer, said: ‘Wildlife is drawn to our gardens, especially in winter, where it can find shelter, and often food and water. Big Garden Birdwatch not only produces a huge amount of interesting information, it’s also a great way for everybody across Scotland to connect with all the wildlife that lives right next to them, and to take a bit of time out to enjoy their garden, the local park or even the balcony of their flat. Taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch helps us build a picture of how birds are doing across the country, and you get to be part of a huge nationwide effort that has now been going on for 41 years.
‘Everyone and anyone can take part. It’s very easy, you don’t need expert knowledge and, whether it’s your first year or your forty-first year, I guarantee you will enjoy it. And you can do it not just in your own garden, but in a local park or similar outdoor space. We are always amazed just how many people take part in Scotland each year, providing us with huge amounts of information, and proving just how much they care about our fantastic wildlife. Every effort is worthwhile, every Birdwatcher counts!’
Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said: ‘Big Garden Birdwatch is a great example of how setting time aside for nature is beneficial for us all. With busy lives it can be easy to lose our connection with nature, but just by taking the time to observe and enjoy the wildlife around you, you’re getting that connection back. Big Garden Birdwatch is a fun and easy way to take part in citizen science, and to appreciate your local wildlife. We love to hear about what you see – even if you see nothing at all – it’s all valuable information! Everyone can get involved, and it’s a wonderful activity to do as a family.’
To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2020, people need to watch the birds in their garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only birds that land should be counted, not those flying over. Record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time – not the total seen in the hour. Information packs and resources to help identify birds are available on the RSPB website.
Once you have recorded the birds that make a visit, submit your results online at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch before 16 February, or by post to Freepost RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH before 11 February.
The parallel event, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term (6 January – 21 February 2019). More than 60,000 schoolchildren spent an hour in nature counting more than 100,000 birds in 2019. More information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch