Citizen Science and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend, saw the 37th annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the increasingly popular citizen science opportunity to record visiting garden birds.

Blue Tits

As always, lots of Blue Tits made an appearance and enjoyed the Sunflower hearts

The RSPB uses the data to monitor long term bird populations. With a strong marketing campaign to encourage folk to take part, participation rates are already up on last year. Analysed results are published in March.  The RSPB encourage schools, groups and individuals to give up one hour and count visiting garden or outdoor space birds and in recent years have included mammals and reptiles too.  They are as interested in whats not being seen as the birds that do visit.

Coal Tit

Identifying a Coal Tit – white stripe on back of head and two small white bars on wings

As gardeners we can be in tune with our natural world and understand how our wildlife is faring in a world of diminishing habitats. Largely due to industrialisation, pesticide use on our farmland and gardens which destroy the invertebrates at the source of the food chain and increased house building. We will have a better chance to understand what man has done and what we could do to help mitigate or prevent further destruction to our living planet. We need to co-exist, not exist at the expense of other creatures.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker making an appearance in the allotted hour

Climate change, brought home this year by the unseasonable mild winter and dreadful flooding in the UK, not only threatens the homes and livelihoods of people but the habitat, shelter and foraging opportunities for our wildlife too, by taking part in a citizen science project we can play a small part in helping our scientists to understand more of whats going on.


Robin, one of two that showed up for the Big Garden Birdwatch hour

Many of our birds are now in sharp decline, 60 per cent of UK wildlife species monitored for the State of Nature report have declined over the last 50 years. I cannot imagine wanting to garden without hearing birdsong or being distracted by a Bee at work, those simple pleasures will disappear along with us too, if we continue to destroy our natural world.

63 thoughts on “Citizen Science and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

  1. Great post and photos, Julie. I’m glad to see so many people interested in tracking and maybe(?) preserving our valuable wildlife partners. Like the UK, there has been a serious decline in North American native birds as well. We all need to work hard to prevent a *silent spring*–and rest of the year, too.

    • The RSPB have organised a simple monitoring project that encourages thousands and thousands of people to participate, we have more advanced surveys with other organisations but the more simple projects bring a greater awareness.

  2. This is a lovely post. 🙂 I to love the garden birdwatch and have participated on a regular basis.
    I feel exactly the same as you and couldn’t imagine gardening or even going to the local woods and listening to all the magical sounds of birds and all the other creatures. 🙂

  3. All I got was two blackbirds and a magpie. None of my normal birds have been coming into my garden during the windy weather over the past couple of weeks.

    Such is life! >.>

  4. These are beautiful photos! And what you say is so true, and so terrifying. The thoughtless, everyday acts of humans have such far-reaching consequences and yet “growth” carries on and isn’t sufficiently challenged. On a positive note though; the RSPB initiative is a great example of crowd-sourcing, which not only helps the scientists, but raises awareness. Win, win.

  5. Excellent post Julie with great photos. Here in Ireland BirdWatch Ireland (similar to RSPB) run a garden bird watch survey which runs from November till the end of February. We record our weekly maximums over that period. It’s interesting to see how some birds come and go (like greenfinches and goldfinches) but others are always about (like the coal tits). I will do a blog on our results when I finish.

    • I didn’t know that about goldfinches/greenfinches being episodic. I was just bemoaning the fact that for the Big Birdwatch we saw just one greenfinch and no goldfinches, when two or three weeks ago there were regularly 3 greens and 4 gold who hardly moved off the sunflower hearts.

      • I think some gardens may be lucky enough to have the green and goldfinches all the time; but certainly with us they come and go:)

    • We have a few monitoring projects here, some more involved than others. This one only lasts an hour, however, its doing a great job of raising awareness for all ages, with lots of support in identifying birds and ideas for garden wildlife projects. Your survey sounds like something I’d like to do here, I keep a sporadic diary but realise my own records could be better.

    • now that sounds far more sensible and would provide a more accurate picture of what is really happening, I observe my garden all year and know which birds are residents, which are summer or winter visitors and the transitory migrants that pass through twice a year, the only food I provide is from my wildlife planting style and habitats created, Frances

  6. I share your fears but I feel these projects do bring more people closer to the realisation to the problems facing the world. Thank you for sharing your hour with us – the photographs are beautiful. I never get woodpeckers at our bird table so it was nice to see one again. Amelia

    • I agree Amelia, I monitor for a considerably more complicated wild plant project which is utterly frustrating and would put the most enthusiastic of people off. But thats another story. The all encompassing projects which bring in thousands of people to take part can only do good in the long run.

      • The distruction of habitat is the biggest world wide problem.
        An old house in this village was sold with planning for three houses, the house was demolished and the entire garden, containg many mature trees, was cleared of everything, in May!! Farmers are not allowed to cut hedges during the nesting season, highway construction has to monitor nesting birds before felling trees, why not builders? Sorry to go on, it really annoyed me!

      • We had a similar thing happen here, planning rules have relaxed and for the worse. The builders on a adjacent new house removed a mature veteran Willow which previously absorbed a lot of water on our floodplain resulting in my neighbours garden being left under water. Sadly there is no redress. It really annoys me too Brain.

      • gosh this would/does really annoy me too, I lived in a flat in Bath in an old house which was grade 2 listed, strict rules about doing the tiniest thing, my son has had 2 houses, first in Hove and now in a Sussex village with eucalyptus trees in the gardens, there are preservation orders on them and they cannot be cut down, surely it makes sense to preserve any tree that is preventing flooding, your poor neighbours, Frances

      • Absolutely Frances, Sadly planning laws have relaxed considerably and builders seem to act first and then rely on very little power from councils to take action. With the increased flooding we are so stupid to be increasingly chopping down the trees that take up much of the excess water.

  7. Hope that you enjoyed the Watch Julie. I did an hour on Saturday and an hour on Sunday and I was just wondering which results to submit (‘cos the numbers are of course slightly different …. and does a jay beat a greenfinch ?)

  8. Well done Julie! Really lovely photographs too. I really do enjoy seeing all the English birds. I actually think that the UK is much better at understanding the risks faced by birds and all wildlife threatened by pesticide use and habitat destruction. I certainly am more aware of a level of concern there than I am here in the US. Hearing birdsong is truly one of the greatest joys in being outside on a lovely spring day!
    – Kate

    • Absolutely Kate, birdsong is one of the greatest joys! Its the most uplifting heart warming sound. I wonder why there is less awareness there – possibly the smaller scale of our Island. Although we have many excellent wildlife documentaries, that certainly help encourage folk to engage with nature here. And some very motivated campaigners who are raising awareness especially to pesticide use.

  9. Great post Julie with some excellent photos. I haven’t been feeding the birds for a few months now in an effort to discourage the grey squirrels. I don’t suppose it will work. We have plenty of berries and seeds still in the garden which is appeasing my conscience just a little.

  10. I really appreciate your wonderful posts and photos on this subject. It is so important to see folks participate in activities that really demonstrate the important link between habitat and wildlife and how we are linked over such great distances.

    • Thanks Susie, the declines across all wildlife are alarming, most noticeable in our bird population. Birds we used to see regularly do not visit, so we try to provide as good a place to shelter and forage as we can here.

  11. There is a similar campaign in Germany as well, raising awareness as well as collecting data. I sure do hope that many people will agree with what you put in great sentences – we have to co-exist, and we should want to co-exist and listen to birdsong and bee buzzing etc.

    • Yes, it is the raising of awareness that the RSPB do so well here, we have more specialist surveys, but this one really does encourage folk in their thousands to take part. It would be beyond gloomy to live in an artificial world without any interaction with the natural world.

      • Quite. We would not survive as a human race on any level without the rich resources of the natural world. In years to come we may be able to send a few people to live in space. Man has the ability to create amazing technology we just need to be blessed with a sense of humanity.

    • Thanks Christiane, the birds give us so much pleasure here and although we live in a rural area, they need all the additional help we can give them. 🙂

  12. I agree with you Julie that is has made more people aware of the declining bird populations but I do not think it gives a balanced picture of the situation, firstly, most (actual all) the people I have heard take part feed the birds to encourage them into their garden at the appropriate hour, this in it’s self is unnatural, and secondly, does nothing to help the invertebrate population, I know you do a lot to encourage all wildlife but most people don’t, I actually find the great bird watch very artificial, perhaps it encourages more people to join the RSBP and so help finance more worth while projects, Frances

    • Hi Frances, I hear what you are saying but think for this particular campaign its more about raising awareness for the natural world. Especially the Garden Bird Watch aimed at schools. There are lots more specialist monitoring projects, which need more advanced knowledge and spare time, which primarily collect data. Its the raising of awareness thats so important here, plus the weekend snapshot compared with data over the last 37 years presumably does give some idea of which birds are in trouble. The build up to this weekend with lots of help in identifying birds must be quite an exciting event for young children, I know when ours where young they always looked forward to the project. I agree with the financing aspect, I am sure they must recruit lots of new members at this time of year.

  13. I think it is a great idea, but I do wonder how many of the people taking part and feeding birds are cat owners. In that case poor birds are being enticed into the garden to be killed. It is estimated that cats kill 55 million birds a year in the UK. I don’ t understand why more isn’ t done to make the public aware how much damage these feline predators do.
    A great post and wonderful photos as usual.

  14. A well voiced post, Julie, with some wonderful pics. I’m interested also though in Island’s Threads comments. For a long time we ummed and ahhed about feeding wild birds where we live, in a very rural environment. In the end, since, as you know, we’re really keen on invertebrate/insects in the garden, we opted not to, on the possibly spurious basis, that we didn’t want to suck in a greater number of birds that might then skew the balance unfavourably against the invertebrates.
    I’ve never been very hot on bird id’s as well, but do agree that anything that can engage more people with the ‘natural world’ and how we’re trashing it, is probably a good thing.
    I wonder how many politicians took part/ Or are gardeners??

    • I can understand that Julian, here we live in a rural predominantly agricultural area, and a couple of local decidous woodlands. There will, because of the agriculture be fewer invertebrates for birds, so we try to provide food, but selfishly love to see them closer up too. The BTO have more involved surveys but like the Butterfly Conservation surveys, the RSPB one is great for engaging folk as its easy to take part. We are fortunate to have some really motivated and proactive conservationists in this country, hopefully politicians are taking notice too.

  15. Love your woodpecker photo – a stunner! Our Birdcount is the 3rd weekend in Feb. coming up soon. I’m afraid our declines in the US are much the same as yours. Gardeners who cultivate native plants for birds and other animals can play a very important and vital role in the restoration of declining species. I’m glad you are spreading the word!

    • I try to grow as many natives as I can here but on our comparatively small island we have far fewer than you do over there, so I do grow organically grown non natives to help our pollinators. Our native trees though support a far greater selection of invertebrates and therefore birds and mammals. I hope your bird count goes well Eliza, I know its as important to note whats not there, but its exciting when you do get plenty of visiting birds too.

  16. Lovely photographs Julie and some interesting comments on your post. Feeding garden birds has always been debated, but the fact that even RSPB reserves put out food surely shows it is an important supplement, especially as you say in areas affected by crop-spraying against insects. Birds still forage even if they come to feeders, here the tits wait for their ‘turn’ on the feeders in the twiggy branches of a tree and often forage while they wait. It is important to be consistent with your food, birds do visit habitually and if there’s no food they will hang around to wait for it, wasting valuable foraging time.

    • Very good point Theresa, especially at this time of year, when natural resources are running low. Another thing I worry about is the airmiles involved with peanuts, we do put those out in the winter time and although Sunflower hearts are high in fat too, they go mushy if not eaten quickly enough. Although once they start nesting we stop offering peanuts as they are too large for chicks.

  17. Pingback: Citizen Science and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – LOVEBIRDS

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