i have been a keen nature lover ever since I was young and was keen to take part in The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s largest wildlife survey, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday 25 & 26 January 2014 . The survey is useful in helping the nature charity monitor the birds visiting gardens over the winter period.
This year, the RSPB are looking for even more information about the wildlife in the garden. Because much of the UK’s wildlife is in trouble. To take part, Participants are invited to count the feathered friends that visit during one hour – any hour – over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, because birds are a brilliant indicator of the health of our countryside. Participants are also being asked for information about other wildlife that sometimes snuffles and settles in the back (or front) garden, in order to get an even better picture of what’s happening to our wildlife. You don’t have to be an expert to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, but the more results received the better the RSPB Can understand what is happening to Britain’s wildlife.
The birdwatch is a nice way to spend an hour, and it helps ecologists monitor changing avian trends in gardens. Unlike nature reserves and public property, ecologists can’t simply walk into gardens to record wildlife themselves – they rely on gardeners to give them a helping hand. Now in its 35th year, RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW) attracts around half a million people every January. They not only help monitor changing bird trends, but also get a little closer to the wildlife outside their back door. Since its inception, BGBW results have mirrored national statistics, most recently confirming that house sparrow numbers are in freefall. Sightings have dropped by 63 per cent since the first count in 1979, while numbers of starlings are down by 82 per cent. Song thrushes are now seen in 59 per cent fewer gardens.
Reasons for these declines are many and varied. House sparrows are thought to be suffering from changes in agricultural practices, resulting in a lack of insect food for their young and a general destruction of habitat. (House sparrows tend to stick to the same area, so if their habitat is destroyed then local populations are more likely to die out than simply move on.) It’s not known why starlings are declining so rapidly, but it might be something to do with a fall in the number of soil invertebrates, such as worms and leatherjackets, in agricultural areas, which these birds rely on heavily for food. Song thrushes are thought to have fallen victim to a degradation of insect food and nesting habitat, such as hedgerows. The knock-on effects are felt in our gardens, but we can also use our gardens to help reverse the downward trends of these threatened species.
It’s not all bad news. Sightings of coal tits, long-tailed tits and blackbirds are increasing. And there’s a new bird on the block – the blackcap. Usually a summer resident which nests in large gardens but migrates to Iberia in autumn, the blackcap has recently been turning up at British bird feeders in winter. Only, they’re not the same blackcaps we see in summer; these birds have travelled here from Europe. Like “British” blackcaps, they also mostly head to Iberia, but a splinter group has started to come to Britain instead, where they feast on the peanuts and fat balls in our feeders. There are many advantages of spending winter in Britain over Iberia: the birds have a guaranteed source of food and a comparatively short return journey to their spring breeding grounds. Because they arrive home sooner than the Iberian set, they have the pick of the best nesting sites, and are also probably in much better physical condition to breed.
during some mild winters, it may take a long time for any birds to show up in The garden. this does not necessarily mean the birds have declined as the RSPB explains. Mild weather means birds could find food in the wild – they didn’t need us. Birds tend to be pushed into gardens the harder the weather is, so the milder the weather, the fewer birds you will see in your garden. consequently birds like finches and winter migrants such as redwings and fieldfares are less likely to turn up. However, it’s still worth taking part. “Even if the weather is mild and there are fewer birds in your garden on the day of the count, These low sightings can still be compared to those of other mild winters, helping track national population trends.
What to feed birds
- Regardless of the weather, birds will soon be entering nesting season and need to be in good condition to breed. Give them nutrient-rich sunflower and niger seed, peanuts, halved apples, mealworms, suet products and grated cheese.
- Continue to feed them after they have started nesting, as while they gather natural food for their young they will still need to feed themselves. Hulled sunflower hearts will save them time and energy, as they won’t have to remove the husk.
- Last year many garden birds failed to raise young successfully. Owing to the cold, wet spring, there were fewer insects to forage. If conditions turn bad, leave a dish of live mealworms for birds, which they may choose to feed to their young as an alternative.
- Avoid leaving out whole peanuts, which birds may feed to their young if natural sources of food are hard to find. These can choke chicks. Only put peanuts out if you have a fine mesh feeder, or are prepared to grind them into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Don’t forget ground-feeding birds such as blackbirds, robins and thrushes. Halved apples and mealworms are ideal for them.
- Keep bird baths topped up. Birds drink from bird baths but also use the water to preen their feathers – helping them to insulate their bodies more efficiently and fly faster, potentially making them better able to fly from predators as well as travel to and from the nest more quickly.
To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, simply spend an hour recording the highest number of each bird species seen in your garden or local park at any one time. Visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ for more details.