As I write this article, I’m preparing to take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch. This annual survey, run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), celebrates its 40th birthday this year. It takes place on the last weekend of January and now runs for 3 days. It relies on families and individuals counting the birds they see in their garden, for just one hour, at any time that’s convenient. 

The survey began in 1979 when the RSPB asked its membership to count birds in their gardens. Then the Blue Peter editor, Biddy Baxter, decided to feature the idea on one of their programmes and the response was so good that it became a regular feature.

In 2001, the survey was broadened to individual adults and its popularity has grown from year to year. Now over half a million people take part making it the largest citizen science wildlife survey in the world. Over that time, it has been shown that numbers of many common garden birds such as starling, greenfinch, house sparrow and song thrush have decreased dramatically.

Taking part in this survey is a great introduction to the systematic methods used by birdwatchers to record the populations and movements of birds. If you’ve enjoyed taking part then you can take your contribution a step further by watching your garden every week. This provides researchers with more valuable, standardised data than a one-off, random count.

This survey is called, simply, Garden BirdWatch (GBW) and was launched in 1995 by The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). This is the conservation organisation that is responsible for recording all other bird related data, mainly through a volunteer community of thousands, and organises a variety of surveys each year. The role of the BTO is invaluable in science, providing academia with specific data sets for research projects.

The BTO Garden BirdWatch offers a chance to watch and record birds and other wildlife in your garden in a more robust and meaningful way. In return for a small fee to help with administration, participants receive an introductory book, a quarterly magazine and on-line resources. Training courses are also provided. You can start at any time so, if you want to make your Big Garden Birdwatch even bigger, visit the BTO Garden BirdWatch website and get involved.

Linda Jenkinson teaches people about birds in and around Leeds. For details of classes email linda@startbirding.co.uk or call 07778 768719. Visit www.startbirding.co.uk or Start Birding on Facebook and Twitter.


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