My RSPB Big Garden BirdWatch pack turned up today. Lots of helpful material, including a handy bird counting sheet, and some useful suggestions for attracting birds to your garden and encouraging them to stay.
BirdWatch itself is such a great idea. You choose an hour, at any time of the day on one day between 26th and 28th January and write the highest number of each bird species that you see at any one time. The example given is “if you see a group of eight starlings together, and towards the end of the hour you see six together, please write down eight as your final count.” This is because the second bunch may be the same individuals as the first bunch, back for another visit. The purpose is to count individual birds, not individual visits. Even if someone participating in the survey sees nothing in the hour, it’s still useful information for the RSPB.
As BirdWatch has been going for 40 years (this is their anniversary year) some interesting statistics have emerged. Examples are that sightings of song thrushes have dropped by 75% since the first BirdWatch, starlings by 79% and house sparrows by 57%. There were some rises too, such as a 52% increase in long-tailed tits. One of the interesting findings is siskin and brambling numbers were up in 2018. I hadn’t heard of either, but both are winter visitors, and the RSPB site says that their numbers are higher in years when conditions here are more favourable in the UK than on the Continent. I suppose that global warming will result in even more visitors of this sort. Blackbirds were in 93% of gardens and robins in 83%. Figures like this allow ornithologists to get a much better idea of what is happening to bird communities across the country. As the survey is postcode sensitive, regional patterns can be determined.
The survey is not confined to birds, although this is the primary purpose. There is also a section on the form that looks at how often garden owners are visited by other wildlife – daily, weekly, monthly, less than monthly, never or don’t know. It’s a fascinating selection, everything from what I think of as fairly common species like grey squirrels, badgers, foxes and frogs to animals that I have rarely seen like red squirrels and muntjacs. Mind, I thought that pheasants were exotic until I moved here, and now I’m literally falling over them every time I leave the house.
All the photos on this post were taken in my garden at Aberdovey, and are just a sample of the avian life that regularly visits, one of the real joys of living here.
The survey can be returned by post or completed online, and must be submitted no later than 12th February by post or 17th February online. The survey results are published in April, and it will be fascinating to see what the results are. The results of the 2018 survey, consisting of 420,489 collated responses, are posted here on the RSPB website. The main findings are shown below, but you can also see the findings by country, and see an Excel spreadsheet of the detailed survey results.
The 2018 general wildlife findings were also interesting. The survey results indicated that although frogs were seen in more than three-quarters of UK gardens, that’s 17% fewer regular sightings than in 2014, whilst toads have been seen in just 20% of gardens at least once a month, which is 30% down on four years ago. At the same time, sightings of hedgehogs have increased and were seen in 65% of gardens during 2018, with foxes reaching 72%. I saw foxes all the time when I lived on the edge of a park in Rotherhithe (London), but I cannot recall ever seeing one here, although there must be plenty around.