Out for the count during lockdown three
Reporter Charlie Bullough talks to the RSPB’s Becca Smith about its annual bird count
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is set to have a captive audience this year. The annual bird monitoring survey, which runs from January 29 to 31, is perhaps just the tonic we need during lockdown three.
Around half a million people join in the one-hour citizen science count every year. And while we have to stay at home until at least mid February, there could be even more people taking part this year.
Becca Smith said: “We are really hopeful it is going to be a bumper year. Back when the first lockdown hit us in March last year we ran a Breakfast Birdwatch, which was purely on social media. We were having a lot of people coming to us saying, ‘We’ve seen this bird, what is it?’. There was just this massive surge of national interest in birds.”
The stay local message in lockdown one also perhaps opened our eyes to the wildlife on our doorstep. Becca added: “I’ve been working from home and in the spring I was watching house sparrows build a nest. That is something I would have missed if I had been in the office.”
She hopes the recent success of the online Breakfast Birdwatch will set the tone for
its more methodical counterpart, which has been collecting data since 1979.
Last year house sparrows, starlings and blue tits were the top three garden birds seen in the UK. While the song thrush continued its slide down the charts.
So what will 2021 bring, with potentially more observers?
Communications officer Becca said: “I don’t think we are expecting masses of shake up this year. Potentially we might just see more birds if people have been interested since March. If people have been feeding and putting up nest boxes or just thinking about nature in their garden a bit more, hopefully we will see some increases.”
But Becca sounded a note of caution about our top performing bird, the house sparrow. She said: “I think house sparrows have been in for about 17 years at number one. But they are still down 50 per cent in our gardens since 1979. Although we can shout about the successes, there are obviously declines behind them as well. We just hope we can improve by more feeding and more people caring for the birds that visit their gardens.”
There is plenty we can do to attract birds to our gardens, be it by offering sunflower hearts, peanuts and fat balls at feeding stations. People can also share leftover pears or apples, which appeal to winter thrushes, or other snacks.
Becca said: “Grated mild cheese is always one that surprises people, things like cheddar and Wensleydale they go a bit mad for.”
But it is also important to provide freshwater, especially in win try conditions when naturalsupplies maybe iced over.
You don’t have to be tied to your garden to participate in the survey as you can do it from anywhere. Becca said: “That’s the beauty of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Although it has ‘garden’ in the title it doesn’t mean you can’t do it from a greenspace, while you are on a walk, from your balcony or from your window. There is really no limit of where you can do it from.”
Becca’s preferred option is doing the survey from the comfort of her own home “with a slice of cake in one hand and a cup of tea in the other”. She added: “The birds really need us for their food. Hopefully seeing those flits of colour in your garden or going past your balcony will really help lift the spirits.
“As we have seen so far, people have been really intrigued by birds. The amount of times we’ve had ‘Oh I never knew that’ and ‘how do you tell these birds apart?’ or people being captivated by their singing or what colour their feathers are.”
The RSPB’s websiteofferseve- rythingyouneed totakepart.Becca said :“Your free guide includes a nice little identification chart so you can tick off what you see. If you have no idea what they look like there are some really helpfulphotos on there. And that can help kids as well as it is nice andvisual.”
The confining events of last year probably magnified the importance of being in nature for our well being. The survey is a chance to give something back.
Becca said: “It is probably the easiest thing you can do to help our natural world after our natural world helped us so much last year. It’s an hour of your time. You don’t have to know anything about birds. If people don’t know what the bird is, there is nothing to say you can’t message us on Facebook or Twitter and say ‘What’s that bird?’. We get that all the time. We are on hand to guide you and give you more information about that bird so that you are learning at the same time.
“It’s a really easy exercise to do as a family or on your own with your housemate whoever. I think it is just the most accessible and easiest way to help nature really.”
Totakepartin the Big Garden Bird watch 2021 go to www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatchortextBIRDto70030. You can submit your sightings from January 29 to February 19 via the website or by post.