Do birds suddenly appear?
THIS year, the RSPB celebrates 40 years of counting little fluttering wings; since 1979, eight million hours have gone towards the invaluable pursuit of recording 130 million birds, involving hundreds of thousands of people.
In that time, our skies have changed dramatically. The song thrush was soaring in 1979, but numbers have plummeted to less than half what they were then. The starling has also suffered an alarming decline and the house sparrow (below right), numbers of which are down 57% in four decades, is actually up 17% since 2009. More positively, the Birdcount has shown an increase in populations for the collared dove and wood pigeon.
Registration is open and RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch volunteers are sought to spend an hour recording birds on January 26–28. Visit www. rspb.org.uk/birdwatch to register. There’s also a Big Schools’ Birdwatch between January 2 and February 22; visit www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch.
Next up is the Big Farmland Birdcount on February 8–17 (www.bfbc. org.uk), when farmers, land managers and gamekeepers are invited to spend half an hour spotting species. The results will inform the GWCT as to which birds need help. Last year, more than 1,000 farmers took part, surveying some 950,000 acres. Of the 121 species recorded, 25 were red-listed and fieldfares (above) were among those most commonly seen.
‘Over the past four decades, farmers have carried out a huge amount of work to encourage wildlife and are responsible for protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70% of the nation’s iconic countryside,’ says NFU president Minette Batters, who will be birdspotting on the first day of the count on her farm in Wiltshire; the NFU is the main sponsor for the event. ‘I would encourage as many farmers as possible to participate as this is crucial in the survival and protection of many farmland bird species.’