Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Big Garden Birdwatch - Are you taking part?

Always ensure fresh water is available
The birds will appreciate it.
Frozen water like this is easily melted or by placing a
saucer of fresh water on top - it's easy to provide for
I've recently became a member of the RSPB and for the first time next weekend I will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.                        

The Big Garden Birdwatch, first took place in 1979 for younger members of the RSPB.  It wasn't until 2001 that adults were asked to take part - yes, I know, I'm a bit late at coming to the party - but better late than never, eh!!

The purpose of this event is to count the garden birds visiting our gardens during a specific weekend - the weekend of 26/27 January, this year and for 1 hour only.  So pretty easy to fit in for most lifestyles.
Once data is collected and logged - they can work out our most common garden birds here in the UK.  If you don't have a garden, you can do it in your local park.

So, how do you do it?  You count each separate species of birds in your garden at one time - that way you don't record the same bird more than once!  It's important that you only record the birds 'in' your garden - not those flying over.  Mind you, what about the ones sitting on the fence!! 

Once your hour is up you have until the 15th of February to log your information - check out the   RSPB WEBSITE for more information.  There are forms to download to help you record your data and just for registering you can claim £5 off when you shop at their online store!  

I've been making sure that I can id all the birds that regularly visit my garden and yesterday, after clearing the footpaths of snow and ice - I had a little practice run!  Although snow was on the ground - it was a fresh sunny afternoon.  It's not often I get a chance to sit down and do nothing for an hour!  In my garden, the birds just generally go about their business whilst we are in the garden, and that includes the cats and the dog!  I do make sure that the cats (3 young boys) wear bells on their collars and we have very few casualties! 

If you would like more information on the birds - please follow the links!

These are the 3 most common birds that visit my garden. 


House Sparrow (passer domesticus)

By far the most prolific birds that visits my garden.  These rather noisy social creatures will eat pretty much anything you put down to them.  They will feed from tables, feeders, ground feeders and forage about in the undergrowth for food. Always the first in  the queue when the feeders are filled up!  Generally they will feed in the garden when we are about but disappear in their droves to the hedgerow when danger is about.  Whilst they do eat seeds and grains - insects are an important part of their diet.  Planting insect friendly plants will provide a vital source of nourishment for them and in particular their young when they most need it.  

Starling (sturnus vulgaris)

What a quieter place my garden would be without these birds and their bully bird tactics! 

They will rather greedily hog the feeders - like the sparrows they too will eat anything you put out.  Their fighting is just not confined to other species but their in house squabbling can get rather noisy!

There is something rather comical about the way the smash their beaks into the fat balls in the hanging feeders - only for the little birds patiently awaiting the spoils that drop to the ground!    

Another year round visitor but in springtime their numbers multiply rapidly.  
You can't fail to notice their glossy multi-coloured feathers - iridescent is a better word to describe it, I think!  

Blue tits are another of our common garden birds.  It is said that if you have 5 blue tits at one feeder at any time - your garden is probably feeding 20 birds.  I've often more than 20 birds in the garden at one time - so just how many am I feeding?
Blue Tit
Easily recognisable by it's blue eye mask 
Unmistakable in flight, as they make for the garden - these little beauties are always first to investigate anything new!  In fact - I was given a couple of nesting boxes as a Christmas present and as I have no practical places in which to hang them - I hung one near the roof of the shed - within seconds 2 or 3 blue tits had been in for a nosy!
They too will visit a variety of feeders but not often on the ground - being very agile they can get into some awkward positions.  Sunflower hearts will always take preference over other foods followed closely by peanuts.  They also eat insects and fruit and can be seen pecking away at the branches looking for insects.
Getting ready to go!
Hanging from a peanut feeder
hooked inside a Weeping Willow 

Being as I want my garden to be wildlife friendly as I can possibly make it - it is important that I encourage as my different bird species as I possibly can.  There are lots of birds, either resident or visitors here in Scotland that do not visit my garden or they have only been a fleeting visitor - I'm hoping that in time I can encourage some of them in and make them more of a regular.  I wonder that as the shrubs/trees mature (2 years ago my garden was just lawn and paths),  the borders become fuller, the pond entices yet more wildlife and the log piles rot - will the difference be obvious or just slight? 

Do you provide food for the birds in winter or all year round or not at all? 
Will you be taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch?
What birds are a common sight in your garden?

I wonder if other countries do a similar event?  If you live anywhere other than the UK - I'm sure I won't be the only one interested in hearing about it - please feel free to tell us all about it!

I will be doing a follow up blog on the less abundant bird species visiting my garden - so please come back soon!


  1. I will take part, but I am afraid I might only be counting wood pigeons - unless the suet balls I have bought from Amazon turns up in time and are tempting enough for some smaller birds to turn up!

    Great info, I feel very much like a new beginner, can't say I know the difference between a starling and a sparrow yet!

    1. Glad to hear you are taking part - even if only wood pigeons, you will still have a comparison for next year. Think like Kevin Costner - 'if you build it - they will come' :)
      The RSPB send out Birds in your garden booklet for free from here
      They are very useful and there is a wildlife booklet too.

  2. I don't encourage birds to come here, as we have too many cats. But I am always fascinated by them, and hope you get some surprise species to come visit on your counting day!

    1. Holley - how many cats do you have? My cats have their moments - but they are more of the furry kind than feathered!!
      It would be nice to get something different. Thank :)

  3. Backyard bird watching is a big deal for me. Appeal to birds is a major criterion in my selection of plants. I can assure you based on my experience that the longer you keep at it, the more diversity of birds you will see. There are books that list specific plants for birds in North America - I imagine there must be the same for the UK.

    By the way, we have lots of House Sparrows (we call them English Sparrows) and Starlings. But I've never seen Blue Tits, what a pretty little bird!

    1. Jason, yes, I'm trying my best to create a welcoming environment for all. I like to take notes on what's visiting - things are improving all the time. I find the RSPB website useful and have a rather good book they publish.
      The blue tits are pretty little birds. Do you have something similar?

  4. I will definitely by joining you! I had never thought of it as relaxing for an hour while feeling as if we are doing something useful - I like that idea!

    Like you, I have been planting for wildlife, although the shrubs aren't mature yet and all the berries were stripped in autumn. We have a lot of birds here at the moment... they are coming closer to the house to eat, which makes them easier to see, although I do worry about how desperate they are for food and water.

    1. Maybe I'm giving my mind a treat by saying I will be relaxing - I'm thinking just how hard can it be to count birds :)
      Our shrubs can mature together. I've been deliberately putting a ground feeder right outside the back door so get them closer - the cats have a whale of a time from behind the glass (they don't get out after 4pm as there are a couple of local lads who used to shoot pellet guns).
      As they are so hungry, I've put out cooked white rice and pasta as extra this week and they are loving it! Although I've always got water on offer, living very close to a river, they don't use it much!

    2. Unless you get a flock land in your garden - in which case, you'll need all your fingers and toes to count them!

      I didn't know they liked pasta... our dog will be very jealous if he misses out on our leftovers!

  5. I'll be taking part and I do feed the birds here - I'm so jealous of your blue tits - none here - aside on tv or the internet!

    Have fun - what a lovely post!

    1. Such a shame you don't get blue tits up there in Orkney - good luck on the day!!

  6. Hi Angie I so enjoyed your blog as ever and yes I shall be to taking part.

    Its a real joy to watch bluetits,coaltits,longtailed tits.robins,blackbirds,chaffinch,starling ,pidgeon,the odd pheasant.

    Last week a fieldfare and our red squirrel.

    With all this snow its so hard for the birds to feed .I have replenished bird food so got a lot now for them except peanuts as over the fence my neighbour gives peanuts.

    Enjoy the birds Angie.

  7. Thanks Kath - haven't had longtailed tits here and haven't seen sight of a coal tit for a few weeks, despite there being plenty of sunflower hearts (their favourite)!
    Re our chat yesterday about the pasta - jeez - they loved it!! Especially the blackbirds!

  8. The birds keep me smiling whatever the season. We've designed the back gardens to bring them up close... an easy view through the windows so we don't disturb them. They are the stars of many a photo shoot. I will look into the bird watch... sounds like fun!

    1. Aren't their antics funny sometime - I find it relaxing, a bit like watching fish!

  9. Hi Angie, great post, we also take part in the bird watch. In our last garden sparrows and starlings were the main visitors. Where we are at the moment, since we started using sunflower seedhearts we have started to get many more visitors, gold finches, long tails, coal tits, and others. Rather expensive these seedhearts, we feed them all year round.

    1. Yes Alistair, those sun flower hearts are expensive - I've been trying out cooked pasta and white rice, it's going down well!!
      Good luck at the weekend!

  10. We will be taking part but the garden has been so busy this last week I'm not sure we will be able to keep up with the counting ... today the starlings were chasing each other away, the blackbirds were chasing everyone else away and then they all took to the sky when the sparrowhawk turned up. It will be hectic.

    1. Patricia - thanks for visiting, I know what you mean about plenty of birds to count. I'm going to have trouble counting the sparrow - had a go yesterday and there was in excess of 30 I'll need to keep my wits about me tomorrow!
      I've only seen a sparrow hawk here once, it was perched on a neighbours roof looking down into my garden!!! I live quite rural, there are owls etc about at night over the fields.
      Good luck with your count!

  11. Hello again Angie, a great informative post :-)

    Interestingly, just across the bridge it is Chaffinches that are probably my highest all year regular. We get large flocks of mixed finches in our garden during winter. IN answer to your query I’d say yes, as your garden plants mature and you have good cover for birds (and more insects) I’d say you’ll see a good increase in species :-D

    Yes, as you know, I do provide food for the birds all year round. It’s important to keep feeding during summer months for exhausted parent birds and hungry new fledglings and doing this means you may get to see all the new young birds in your garden too. In winter, it is the serious business of extra food in gardens during cold spells (when natural foods aren’t accessible) helping the birds get enough energy to survive a cold night. Putting up garden feeders really does make a difference and pre blogging and gardenwatching I didn’t appreciate this.

    Blue tits, Coal tits, Blackbirds are some of the common sights in my garden just now but during winter I get others including Long-tailed tits and brief glimpses of a Fieldfare. Last weekend, I had a Pheasant feeding in my garden and I captured video of his garden tour ;-)

    Yes, I’m off to do my bird count now. Just going to get a coffee and a finger of shortbread, take my window seat and will have my notebook to hand. Enjoy your first count :-D

    1. Shirley, I'm sure I will enjoy and I hope all went well with your bird count and you didn't eat too much shortbread. I'll be doing mine tomorrow.
      Like you I've learned a lot from reading what others have to say about feeding the birds - I feed all year round too.
      How nice to have the pheasant visiting - even better that you captured him on video. I hope you will be putting it on your blog.
      It concerns me that I haven't seen a coal tit for a few weeks - despite the abundance of sunflower hearts I've been putting out. I bought some berry suet logs as a treat for them allowing me to count them!

  12. Oh I envy your collection of bird feeders...I'd have them everywhere but Mr TG has to reign me in. Just typical, on Friday we had a every variety of bird known to man visit the Tidy Garden(ahem!), hardly any!!
    You've gained a follower...Moi!

    1. Jane thanks ever so much for following :)
      Yes my garden was pretty similar one Sunday. Just a fraction of what I would normally expect. Even had a sparrow hawk this last 2 days. It would have been nice to add her to my count!

  13. Hi Angie loved reading your post and i love to watch the countless variety of birds feeding in my next door neighbours garden, but I
    dare not attract any birds to my own garden at the moment which is very sad, I have a springer spaniel who is a trained gun dog and she can not get out of the habit of chasing birds, all though she's getting on a bit now, next year maybe she wont bother so much, we do get birds visiting us but sadly they are hastily chased off

    1. antjon, it's such a shame you can't encourage the birds. At least you are able to enjoy their antics next door. Hopefully your dog will in time be a bit more tolerant off them. I see a chap around the fields where I live with a dog. He appears to be training it but I'm unsure if it's legitimate. My wee dog doesn't bother the birds and the cats wear collars as way of a warning. Thanks for stopping in :)


Your comments are appreciated. My blog is currently experiencing issues with some readers reporting problems when posting their comments. Please bear with me whilst I try to rectify the problem.
I have temporarily switched on word verification. I apologise for this, personally, I don't like it either, I am hoping this may help.