This coming weekend sees the return of the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch in the UK, an annual event in which members of the public are encouraged to spend one hour recording the birds that visit their garden or local park, and then submit their results as part of the world’s biggest bird survey. Over 600,000 people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2011 and counted over 10 million birds, and this year the RSPB hope to make the survey even bigger.
If you’d like to take part, it couldn’t be simpler. You can pre-register online to make submitting your results even quicker, and download a recording sheet to help you with keep track of what you’ve seen. To get you in the mood, we’ve rummaged through the ARKive collection for the top ten species you might see…
One of Britain’s most well-known birds, the vocal house sparrow, produces a great range of familiar chattering and chirping sounds, and a ‘cher’r'r‘ when squabbling. Although still the most commonly seen bird in the survey, the Big Garden Birdwatch has helped highlight drastic declines in house sparrow numbers, an estimated 71 percent decrease between 1977 and 2008.
A conspicuous species, the European starling is another common sight in gardens across the UK. It is perhaps its best known for its dramatic aerial displays, in which huge swirling flocks gather together at dusk in the winter.
While adult male blackbirds are, as the name suggests, totally black; females are brown in colour, with dark, streaky mottling. A frequent garden visitor, the blackbird can often be seen carefully stalking the lawn whilst listening with its head cocked to one side for worms.
An acrobatic and inquisitive bird; the blue tit is able to exploit unusual food sources, for example obtaining milk by pecking at milk-bottle tops on doorsteps. It’s colourful plumage of blue, yellow, white and green make it instantly recognisable.
The second most common breeding bird in the UK, both the male and female chaffinch can be easily identified in flight when they reveal the double white flashes on their wings and white tail-sides. The males have colourful plumage, with a rosy-red breast and cheeks and a bluish-grey crown.
The largest and most common of Britain’s doves and pigeons, the woodpigeon is found almost everywhere in the UK except on high hills and mountains. It has a pretty, dusky pink breast and a white neck patch, which earns the species its alternative name of ‘ringed dove’ or ‘ring dove’.
The largest of the UK’s tit species, the great tit is easily recognised by its yellow underparts with a black band running down the centre, its black head and large white cheek patches. Great tits have been known to lay their eggs in nest boxes, pipes and even letter boxes!
Believe it or not, the collared dove only arrived in the UK in the 1950s. As its common name suggests, it has a distinctive black collar, and its repetitive cooing is a familiar sound in towns and villages across the country.
The robin is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most dearly loved birds, instantly recognisable due to its rusty-red breast. Robins are very territorial all year round, and territories are defended by means of singing from a prominent perch, making the robin one of the few birds to sing throughout the winter.
A colourful bird, the goldfinch has a bright red face, a black and white head and a deep golden yellow bar on its otherwise jet-black wings. Outside of the breeding season, goldfinches roam in flocks in search of food, and flocks of up to 100 birds are not uncommon.
If you would like to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch on 28 and 29 January 2012, you can head over to the RSPB’s Birdwatch homepage for more information.
We’d love to hear how you get on, please feel free to leave a comment below and let us know your sightings.
Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher