It’s time for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
It’s the 40th year of the Big Garden Birdwatch
Every year, for the past 40 years, over 10,000 people in Norfolk (and over half a million across the rest of the UK) have been counting the nation’s garden wildlife and sending the numbers to the RSPB, making the Big Garden Birdwatch the largest wildlife survey in the world. You can sign up now for a free pack to help you get involved, with fun activities and spotting sheets included. For your free pack, which includes a bird identification chart, plus RSPB shop voucher and advice to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
Will the house sparrow keep the crown as most common garden bird, or will the blackbird leap ahead? Here is last year’s top ten… 1 House sparrow: Noisy little birds, weighing in at between 24 – 40g. There are an estimated 5,300,000 breeding pairs in the UK, but monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK population, which is estimated to have dropped by 71% between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.
Blackbird: Males live up to their name but, confusingly, females are brown, often with spots and streaks on their breasts. The bright orange– yellow beak and eye–ring make adult male blackbirds striking. Both sexes weigh between 80 – 100g. 10–15 million birds winter here in the UK, but numbers have dropped by almost 27% over nearly 30 years. 3 Starling: At a distance starlings look black, but when you see them closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. Their flight is fast and direct and they walk and run confidently on the ground. Each starling weighs about 75g. Starlings spend a lot of the year in flocks. In the UK they have around 804,000 breeding territories, but despite this, starling numbers have decreased by 79% since 1979.
Woodpigeon: The UK’s largest and most common pigeon weighing in at 450g. It is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Although shy in the countryside it can be tame and approachable in towns and cities, and nearly 5,400,000 pairs breed here in the UK.
5 Blue tit: A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors. In winter, family flocks join up with other tits as they search for food; they are a relatively small tit weighing about 11g.
Goldfinch: A highly coloured finch with a bright red face and yellow wing patch. Sociable, often breeding in loose colonies, they have a delightful liquid twittering song and call. They are very small, weighing around 16g. Increasingly they are visiting bird tables and feeders, and now occupy 313,000 UK breeding territories.
Collared dove: Pale, pinky– brown grey coloured birds, with a distinctive black neck collar (as the name suggests). They have deep red eyes and reddish feet. Their monotonous cooing is a familiar sound to many and it’s easy to mistake them for a woodpigeons, however they are a lot smaller than a woodpigeon, weighing between 170 – 240g. There are 990,000 breeding pairs in the UK, and numbers have increased by over 300% since 1979. 8 Long–tailed tit: As the name suggests, this tit’s tail is much longer than its body! Easily recognisable with its distinctive colouring and undulating flight, the long–tailed tit is a must–see throughout winter. Gregarious and noisy residents, they are most usually noticed in small, excitable flocks of about 20 birds flitting from garden to garden in search of food.
Great tit: The largest UK tit, weighing around 16g
– is green and yellow with a striking glossy black head with white cheeks and a distinctive two–syllable song. It is a woodland bird which has readily adapted to man–made habitats to become a familiar garden visitor, with 2,500,000 breeding territories across the UK.
Chaffinch: The chaffinch is a relatively small bird weighing 21g; it is very colourful with patterned plumage that helps it to blend in when feeding on the ground, but it becomes most obvious when it flies, revealing a flash of white on the wings and white outer tail feathers.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is on January 28-29. rspb.org.uk
ABOVE: Great tit Photo: Grahame MadgeRIGHT:A long tailed tit perched on branch of a pine tree Photo: John Bridges