Jan 27

One of the world’s largest wildlife surveys, the Big Garden Birdwatch, is being launched in the UK this weekend by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Taking place on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th January, this annual event brings together bird lovers up and down the UK to record the bird species visiting the nation’s gardens and parks. Anyone can take part, and the results will provide the RSPB with vital information on how the UK’s bird populations are faring.

Photo of female house sparrow

Although it occurs in almost two-thirds of UK gardens, the house sparrow is undergoing a worrying decline in the UK.

Important bird trends revealed

The Big Garden Birdwatch is now in its 32nd year, and has already given important insights into some of the UK’s favourite birds. Despite being the most commonly recorded species last year, house sparrow numbers have fallen by a startling 62 percent since 1979, while the starling, which last year was the third most common species, has plummeted by 79 percent.

Photo of European starling

The European starling was recorded in over half of gardens in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, but its UK population is in dramatic decline.

However, it’s not all bad news, with species such as the long-tailed tit and goldfinch doing well in recent years, and most gardens still being home to favourites such as blackbirds, blue tits and robins.

Photo of male goldfinch on gorse

Food provided in garden feeders benefits many birds, and may be contributing to the recent success of species such as the goldfinch.

Impacts of a cold winter

The results of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will also be useful in helping scientists understand how the coldest December on record has affected bird numbers in the UK. Small birds are particularly vulnerable to harsh weather, and last year’s cold winter saw big declines in species such as coal tits and goldcrests.

Photo of redwing eating sloe berry from blackthorn tree

A cold winter last year saw a 185% increase in redwings visiting gardens. The coldest December in the UK for 100 years means more unusual sightings are likely to be recorded this year, too.

The recent bad weather may also see more unusual species visiting gardens, with the possibility of spotting redwings, fieldfares and even the odd waxwing.

According to the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Mark Avery, “The really cold weather began quite early in December, and this would have been when natural food sources became scarce. By now, these birds could have been making the most of our hospitality for over a month, meaning even more unusual sightings this weekend.

Photo of a greenfinch in threat posture

Unlucky for some? The greenfinch came in at number 13 in last year’s survey, but outbreaks of the parasitic disease trichomoniasis have seen its numbers plummet.

Will you be taking part?

In last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, over one million participants helped to spot a staggering 8.5 million birds, with 73 species recorded across nearly 280,000 gardens. This year’s event looks to be just as big, and the results will continue to help conservationists to monitor the health of the UK’s garden birds.

Are you taking part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch? What’s the most unusual species you’ve seen in your garden? Do use the comments below to let us know how you get on!

Visit the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for details of how to take part.

View a selection of British birds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author