Make it even bigger by taking part, 29th-31st January 2021!
The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch is now in its 42nd year. It has become the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and is the UK’s biggest citizen science project. Almost half a million people in the UK took part in 2020 and we hope that many more will take part this year.
Our garden birds, whether urban or rural, all need our help, so please help us learn a little more about them by taking part again this year, or by joining in if you haven’t done joined in before.
Over the last year, with the pandemic lockdowns forcing us all to spend a lot of time at home, many more of us have had the time to watch and listen to our garden birds more than usual. People have found themselves noticing the behaviours of their garden birds a little more closely and have come to value and find delight their presence even more than before.
So, now is the time to tell us about those in your garden!
All you need is:
- A window at home overlooking a garden, courtyard or green space.
- One hour at any time of day between Friday 29th and Sunday 31 January.
- Pencil and paper so that you can keep track of how many different birds you see during that hour.
Follow the links below for more information and to enable you to send in your results. You can submit your 2021 results to the RSPB any time up to 19th February.
Visit the RSPB website and follow the links to the Big Garden Birdwatch section where you can register to take part and find more instructions and lots of information about birds and the history of the survey: www.rspb.org.uk or click here to be taken straight to the quick and simple registration form.
We have created a Marlow Garden Bird ID Chart tailored specially to the most likely birds that may be seen in gardens in and around Marlow. Print it out, if you wish, to help you with the birdwatch: Click hear to view or download the pdf.
If you spot a bird that isn’t on this chart, the RSPB has an online ‘Identify a Bird’ section: click here.
If you want to find out more about a particular species, go to the ‘Birds A-to-Z’ section of the RSPB website where you can also hear their songs and calls, and see mini-videos of them in action: click here.
The main points to remember when counting your birds:
- Only birds that actually land in your garden or green space should be counted.
- Those just flying over do not count for this survey. (They will probably land somewhere else where someone else will count them!) Don’t be tempted to put in red kite unless one actually lands in your garden (or the courtyard or green space you are surveying.
- Important: You need to record the maximum number of a species seen at once, e.g. you decide to count your birds between 10am and 11am:
- If you see four blue tits at 10.05am, one at 10.15, seven at 10.17, two at 10.37, one at 10.38 and five at 10.50, you record ‘Seven blue tits’ as your final figure because that is the most blue tits you saw together at any one moment
- If you see one robin six times (of course, this may be the same robin, or two or three different ones appearing at different times), you would record ‘One robin’, as you only ever saw one at any one time.
Pigeons can be confusing!
On our Marlow Garden Bird ID Chart, you will see Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove featured. These have very particular markings that make them easily identifiable. In other words, wood pigeons always have the pinkish breast and white neck patches that you see in the illustration, while collared doves, which are a little smaller and daintier, always have the black ‘collar’ on their necks that gives them their name.
If you see pigeons that have other markings, these will most likely be Rock doves, otherwise known as feral pigeons (or commonly also called town pigeons). These have a huge range of feather patterns, from the smartly regular and symmetrical to the jauntily blotchy and irregular, while their colours can range from dark grey to pale grey or partly white, and some may show cinnamon-brown markings. It can be quite entertaining looking at the colours and feather patterning of a group of feral pigeons and studying the similarities and differences between individuals. Try this out on the Rock doves (feral pigeons) by the river in Higginson Park when lockdown restrictions ease!
What time of day is best for counting garden birds?
Birds are always hungry when the sun comes up and will feed busily for the first hours of the day to make up all the calories they have burnt keeping warm at night. You may there may be quieter patches in the late morning or early afternoon (birdseed a littel rest from feeding, too!), but it will certainly be busy again late afternoon running up to sunset as the birds do a last feeding top-up for the night.
At this time of year, they will have gone to roost by about 4.15–4.30pm (or earlier if it is a very gloomy day), so if you are planning an afternoon birdwatch, plan your hour to finish before dusk falls. Don’t worry if it rains a bit– you may actually find that more birds visit your garden if it is dull and rainy (though not stormy) as they look for easily-accessible food. However, any hour of the day is fine for your Garden Birdwatch, as times will average out at county, country and national level.
Don’t forget to submit your results to the RSPB when you have got done your birdwatch! If you only see very few, or only one bird, in your whole hour, send your result in that is as important a result as seeing lots of birds. Every piece of information is important and will help build a national picture of how our birds are faring. It is especially important that we learn more about the many species that are declining, by finding out what and where the change in the rate of decline is. In this way, conservation organisations can better plan ways to help threatened species.
In another chart, we have extracted the ‘Top Twenty’ of the 2020 Big Garden Birdwatch results for you to compare your 2021 list against. The garden birds seen in 2020 are ranked in order of number of sightings, with No. 1 being the most commonly seen bird. We have included both Buckinghamshire and Berkshire for your interest as here in Marlow we are so close to the county boundary.
Click here to view or download the pdf.
So now, have a look at our Marlow Garden Bird ID Chart, make sure your bird feeders are topped up this week to attract birds to your garden, plan a quiet hour with a cup of tea or cocoa at your garden window on Friday or at the weekend and get ready to do get to know your garden’s birds a little better.
You can do a one-person birdwatch, or collaborate as a family to see how many you can spot in your chosen hour. If you get unavoidably interrupted, just scrap that survey and choose another hour over the three days of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Only send in the results for one survey!
By Catherine Day
Wild Marlow and RSPB Swift Volunteer.