This January, join the world’s largest garden wildlife survey as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch weekend returns for its 43rd year.
The event takes place on Friday 28th to Sunday 30th January and everyone is invited to spend an hour watching and recording the birds in their garden, balcony or local green spaces, before sending the results to the RSPB.
Even if you don’t see any birds, the RSPB wants to know. It all helps the UK’s largest nature conservation charity to understand what is or isn’t around where you live. Garden birds provide an important connection to nature and bring joy and comfort as well as being vital for our mental health and wellbeing.
The most sighted bird in the UK is the house sparrow which has topped the national rankings for eighteen years running. Other species such as blue tit, woodpigeon and goldfinches also regularly make the top ten.
But although house sparrows and starlings may be the UK’s most sighted birds, a closer look at Big Garden Birdwatch data shows that numbers have in fact dropped dramatically since the Birdwatch began in 1979. House sparrows are down 53 percent while starlings are down 80 percent.
More than 38 million birds have disappeared from our skies in the last 50 years. It’s a shocking figure and exactly what is causing these declines is not clear. But together with other scientists and partner organisations, the RSPB continually strives to reverse this trend and protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again
Ahead of the event this year, the charity is sharing the top five birds to look out for in South Yorkshire:
The house sparrow is one of Britain’s most well-known and best-loved birds. Males and females are easily distinguished; males have a grey head and black bib whilst females are pale brown with a pale stripe behind the eye. House sparrows are noisy and gregarious, often sticking together in small flocks, and like big hedges where they can all hide together. They socialise by taking dust or water baths together, as well as ‘social singing’ where they call together in bushes.
The males live up to their name, but confusingly females are brown and often have spots or streaks on their breasts. The bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring make adult male blackbirds one of the most striking garden birds. Its mellow song is also a favourite.
Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointed head and triangular wings, starlings look black at a distance but up-close they are very glossy and shimmer with purple and green. Their flight is fast and direct, and they walk and run confidently on the ground. They spend much of the year in flocks. A murmuration of starlings is an amazing sight – a swooping mass of thousands of birds whirling in the sky above. While still one of the most common garden birds, starlings’ decline elsewhere makes them a Red List species, meaning they’re critically endangered.
The largest and most common pigeon in the UK, the woodpigeon is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Although shy in the countryside, it can be tame and approachable in towns and cities. Its cooing call is a familiar sound in woodlands, as is the clatter of its wings when it flies away.
Streaked with a colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green, blue tits are one of our most attractive garden visitors. Blue tits happily take all kinds of bird food and are a vibrant addition to gardens across the country.
If you’re new to birdwatching, the RSPB also has some simple tips to get you started:
Start off small: It can seem daunting with so many bird species to distinguish between, but garden birds are a great way to start your birdwatching adventure. They are some of the easiest to identify and tend to hang around long enough for you to take a quick snap to reference later if you need.
Put up feeders: Not only will that make them stay for longer but if you feed them regularly birds learn that your garden is a great place to keep coming to. Different feeders and food will attract a variety of birds so feel free to experiment and see who comes to visit. You don’t necessarily need an all singing all dancing feeder – even a tray on a table will make a nice start.
Best time to watch: Although birds are around at any time, you’ll also see more birds first thing in the morning – as they say, the early bird catches the worm!
Thankfully, you don’t have to be an expert to tell a house sparrow from a goldfinch. The RSPB has a useful bird identification guide on hand to help. For your free Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a bird identification chart, top tips for your birdwatch, RSPB shop voucher, plus advice on how to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch