The Big Garden Birdwatch

That is what we have been doing today.

Every winter in the UK (since 1979) the RSPB asks the British public to take part in a survey of the birds in their garden. About half a million people take part and it has become the worlds largest wildlife survey.

So for one hour over this weekend we were asked to record the birds that visit our garden. They don’t want you to count how many times Blue Tits visit your feeder because that would be the same birds over and over, instead they want you just to watch and record the largest number of each species that you can see at any one time.

So during my allotted hour there was one point that I had four Blackbirds on the grass together, four is the answer, not how many Blackbirds I saw in the entire hour, get it?

This is my view of the garden from my kitchen window that will do. Most of the birds will be around the feeder, I have put plenty of food out on the grass to try and bring them into my field of vision and if I get three or four of one species on the feeders at the same time then I am scanning around to try and see more.

The GardenMy results were not very spectacular. Some birds that I could almost guarantee to show up, didn’t. So for Collared Doves the answer was none, there are a pair that live here and I see them every day but during my hour they didn’t show. I hope they don’t get the idea that Collared Doves are extinct in Gloucestershire.

Blue TitIt is quite a fun thing to do. It requires a lot of attention. We had ten species visit during our hour and it could have been quite a few more. They all visit at the same time so I am trying to keep track of three House Sparrows over there and two Blue Tits on one feeder and two Robins squabbling amongst the bushes and so on.

BlackbirdI couldn’t take pictures while I was counting, I was too busy and then I couldn’t take pictures afterwards because it was just so murky but I did my best to try and show you what it was like.

RobinThe results that I returned were..

6 House Sparrows
6 Blue Tits
4 Goldfinches
3 Great Tits
2 Robins
4 Blackbirds
3 Chaffinches
2 Dunnocks
4 Bumbarrels
1 Wren

My favourite was the Wren, I hardly ever see them in that part of the garden and didn’t expect it.

It doesn’t look like a lot of birds but there were quite a lot of birds, they just didn’t all appear together and I was just following the rules. Quite a few local species would appear to be extinct if they just looked at my results but I expect that other people will report seeing them and an hour isn’t very long.

Blue Tit

Blue TitI could easily have missed the Bumbarrels too (Long-tailed Tits). They are not regular visitors but they have been here for a few days and just at the right time for the survey.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed TitSo that is the Big Garden Birdwatch. The RSPB will collate all of the results and tell us which species are in decline and which are doing well and they will use that information to focus their conservation efforts on the birds that need the most help.

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76 thoughts on “The Big Garden Birdwatch”

  1. I had a couple staying here about three years ago from Jersey and they were amazed at the birds here and said they never see any on the Island. They work in St Helier but live in a cottage at the other end. You seem to be much luckier where you are.

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    1. Thanks John πŸ™‚ I have never heard of Jersey being a bird free island, maybe they were just unlucky. Feeding the birds make a huge difference to how many you see in your garden and not just to how many but when you feed them they stay and nest and you get to see the chicks. I once lived in a small terraced house in town and my small back garden was dedicated to wild life. People would always comment on how many birds there were in my garden but fortunately my neighbours didn’t. I would often look over the fence and see their freshly hung out washing covered with bird droppings πŸ™‚ (Nothing to do with me)

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      1. Thank you for correcting me Jeff. That is an important distinction and one that I am pleased to recognise, Collared Doves are too nice to be invasive. By the same token could we not say that the Doves have just continued their natural expansion into the USA?

        One of the disadvantages of the World Wide Web is that whenever I write about one of my beloved native species, somebody, somewhere comments that they are in fact considered invasive and unwelcome in their part of the world. I would like to think that in this case at least I am Not Guilty!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hate to disappoint but as collared doves were introduced by people to North America, it would not be considered part of their natural range expansion. That’s the real distinction: did a species arrive somewhere under its own steam or by human activities?

        Many of the species that we consider “native” to Britain are long-term introductions of course, including species such as most poppies and hares, which came with the Romans, sycamore, etc. There’s a growing movement amongst ecologists to recognise and embrace “novel ecosystems”, that have been wholly modified and comprise non-native species, as valuable habitats in their own right. It’s a debatable point.

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  2. That seems like an impressive number to me in just one hour! Sadly, my bird numbers have reduced recently, mainly due to predators. Can you remember the most species you’ve seen in one day just visiting your place?

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    1. Thanks Jane πŸ™‚ No. It would totally depend on what time of year it was, we have a lot of summer visitors. I wouldn’t like to do such a count without the Swallows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the total count for one day wasn’t around the twenty mark. There are a lot of crows, like Magpies, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows that only visit in the early morning when it is quiet. Doves and Wood Pigeons are regulars and for a good part of the year we have Mallards on the ponds and various Geese about.We have Pheasants and Red Legged Partridges and quite a lot of little birds. The Greenfinch never showed this time, nor the wagtail, woodpecker or Nuthatch. How many in one day? It would just depend on how lucky I got.

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  3. We will be taking part in the Cornell/Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count next month. Haven’t seen the number of birds this year that we did last year at this time. I hope they are there and I’m just missing them. So neat to see your wren and robins. They don’t look like our wrens and robins, and I’ve never even heard of a bumbarrel. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you Quarry Farmers, Steve and Anne πŸ™‚ I must admit I hadn’t heard of the GBBC before, it looks like a different approach to the same idea. Maybe more accurate too because we only record the birds that visit in one hour I had to zero many birds that I know are around and I do wonder how helpful that is. In a different hour I would have had a different result. I suppose it averages out. My Greenfinches were probably being counted in a neighbours garden. I hope that you enjoy your count as much as I enjoyed mine.

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  4. Like the above comment, I do the GBBC in mid-Feb, which is done over three days for a min. of 15 min/per day. It really helps the scientists to see emerging trends. And of course, gives us a nice quiet time to study our feathered friends.

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  5. I think you did very well, Colin. One day I will do the survey too – I just never seem to have the time to sit for that length of time to watch the birds. My father used to do it every year and really enjoyed taking part. I’m glad you’ve taken ‘bumbarrels’ to your heart!

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    1. Thank you Clare πŸ™‚ I live alone but my Landlord still managed to interrupt my count and I had to start again. It can be tricky to get an hour off. Bumbarrels has definitely stuck. I have learned that in the seventeenth century a bumbarrel was “a protuberant part of a woman’s dress” See Jeff Ollerton’s comments further on. Now I have a fairly good idea of where that may have been worn and have decided to study the work of William Hogarth in the hope of seeing one πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What a wonderful way to spend an hour! Your garden is beautiful, and the birds are amazing. I spent some time watching around my yard today, too. There are about 6 inches of snow on the ground, and it was cold. I saw many, many chickadees and four kinds of woodpeckers, but nothing as colorful as your little flock.
    Thank you for the photos!

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    1. Thank you Karen πŸ™‚ Can I ask a question? Roughly, whereabouts are you located. I guess the USA but I don’t like to make that assumption. Some people try to trick me by living in Canada and there are a couple in Mexico but I am guessing that you are not in Mexico. It just helps me to understand the nature around you if I know where you are, roughly πŸ™‚

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  7. Oh, I have to tell you this little story. In Norway on our government TV channel we had one spring something called The Pip Show πŸ™‚ Some nature experts had made a tiny Bird Bar (yes a bar!) with miniature bar chairs and a bar counter and seeds in beer mugs and wine glasses for the birds to eat. Then they had put a tiny mobile camera in front of the bar, and they broadcasted from the bar in between TV-shows, and full time on the Internet. The camera was really close up so you could see so many different birds, and some times there was a lot of drama with squirrels and magpies invading the bar! But mostly it was robins and tits who visited the bar. πŸ™‚ It was very popular!! πŸ™‚

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  8. I’ve enjoyed your Robins. We have the American robin which is a thrush and not related to your bird. Wiki says that our birds were named after yours likely by those rebels who fled the home country a few hundred years ago. Anything with a red breast must be a robin. I’m surprised, too, at how colorful your birds are. I have moved to the SE part of the US (South Carolina) where all wildlife is more colorful. I’m from Seattle, though, where most of nature is gray right along with the skies. The robin really stands out there.

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    1. Thank you Dennis πŸ™‚ Before I got my first digital camera I thought most things were grey or brown, then I got the opportunity to look closely. There are some fantastically beautiful things about if we could just stop time for long enough to look at them πŸ™‚

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  9. There’s nothing like an active bird feeder to cheer the soul ❀ Nice results for your census. Those cheeky bumbarrels πŸ™‚ How do you keep the squirrels and other such thieves from stealing all those open goodies? And do you ever get hawks or other birds of prey crashing the party? Lastly, what type of camera do you use, is it an SLR or basic point and shoot? (Sorry if you have mentioned it elsewhere, not intended to encourage endorsement, just curious).

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    1. Thanks Stephanie πŸ™‚ Fizz is in charge of Squirrel Security. To be honest I very rarely see Squirrels on the farm, there are plenty in the surrounding woodland.

      There is a Sparrowhawk who drops in from time to time but it doesn’t stay around. Now that I know it isn’t going to outstay it’s welcome I am always pleased to see it. It sometimes makes a kill but we do have a lot of birds and starvation is the reason most Sparrowhawks die, I don’t begrudge this predator life.

      And… My camera is a point and shoot but one of the better ones. A Panasonic FZ200 bridge camera. You can point and shoot but I like to fiddle with it πŸ™‚

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      1. Lucky you don’t have to deal with squirrels, they have their place but they are nuisance with bird feeders in urban areas. I don’t begrudge the predator birds either, they make an interesting addition to the mix, although I sometimes felt guilty for providing the platform for the drama. In any case you are right, they don’t stick around and things go back to cheery chirping soon enough. Regarding your camera, aha! I thought it was a Panasonic. I have one too but a lesser model. The picture quality is similar. I use mine for macro photography for one of my other hobbies, and chose it for the short range focus capability. Still you need a steady hand without a tripod to get those awesome shots! ❀ Carry on! πŸ™‚

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  10. I think i would score very low if I tried that here. Bird of the week so far has been Chinese Blackbird. They sound very different. Good to see House Sparrows top the list. How did Fizz get on?

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    1. Thanks Sam πŸ™‚ At least you have got Sparrows. I have been looking at other peoples results today and it is alarming how many recorded zero House Sparrows. I like the idea of volunteering at Butterfly World, now that would be my ideal job, never mind Lions and Tigers πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you Jeff πŸ™‚ A friend of mine (Clare) introduced me to the name a couple of posts back. The earliest record that I am aware of is from the poet John Clare (1793-1864) and his poem Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter. The Long-tailed Tit’s nest is supposed to resemble a Bumbarrel. To date, I haven’t been able to find a picture of a Bumbarrel, from the early nineteenth century, to confirm this. I am not exactly sure what I am looking for πŸ™‚

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  11. Thank you for sharing your backyard view and visitors! Lovely! What do you call the little bird with the blue head and yellow belly? It kind of reminds me of a mourning warbler, but we only get to see those as they migrate through. It is so interesting to note how even the species we have in common look completely different! (Feel free to label the birds right underneath your pictures because even your robins looks completely different than Texan Robins. :))

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    1. Thank you Sabra πŸ™‚ Sorry I have done it again. All of these birds would be very familiar to anyone living in the UK and I just forget that most people don’t live in the UK. The little blue head and yellow belly is a Blue Tit. The others scrolling down are a Blackbird and then a Robin, two more Blue Tits and four pictures of Long-tailed Tits. The three birds at the head of the post are Goldfinches and I will try harder. Thank you for liking the post πŸ™‚

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  12. It is a joy to see the birds! I enjoyed feeding and watching them from my kitchen window in the past. I bought 50 lg. bags of mixed seed and also the small, oily sunflower seed.
    Your photos of the species in your one-hour count are beautiful, each and every one.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Ettel πŸ™‚ I am a bit lucky because I live on a farm and there is a farm shop. They won’t let me pay in the shop because I walk Fizz and look after sheep and stuff and I won’t take anything for it. So, I get all my bird food for free πŸ™‚

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      1. From all I can gather, you have a wonderful arrangement. Your journey seems ideal. And you share with we Followers, for which we thank you.

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  13. I reckon your feelings for the Forestry Commission (listed elsewhere) mirror mine for the RSPB.

    Having been a supporter for years (and met some great people who work there as staff and volunteers) I became weary of their continual campaigning, and in Cornwall poor management of habitat.

    I resigned after raising money for them over many years from my voluntary talks all over Devon.

    I begrudgingly re-joined last year to save on reserve visits, but they don’t play (or report) with a straight bat, and the once glorious quarterly magazine has descended into a all embracing nature botch pitch.

    The national press has done a good job of calling them to account of late, but I would suggest the local Wildlife Trusts are more deserving causes.

    My best birds this weekend were Fulmar, Red Kite, Sanderling, Peregrine, Oystercatchers, Brent Geese and a Stonechat. Perhaps the Oystercatchers gave me the most satisfaction.

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    1. Thank you Stephen πŸ™‚ I have never really been close enough to the RSPB to notice these things but I do believe you. I liked your picture of the Oystercatchers the Red Kite would have given me most pleasure, I have yet to see one around here.

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    2. I’m interested to see you say that the RSPB shouldn’t be doing so much campaigning. Why is that? Shouldn’t campaigning play a role in “Protection” – the P in RSPB? I actually joined the RSPB recently because it was doing more campaigning on a range of issues.

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      1. The organisation is not transparent, and seeks to serve itself and bang drums to create a higher public profile.
        My uncle lived next to Marazion Marsh (managed by the RSPB) over several years he was staggered by the mismanagement that was all about getting Bitterns, and destructive towards other species. His own garden bird count collapsed year on year.

        You might find this article of interest (I hope Colin doesn’t mind us using his site for such a conversation).

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/11291324/Britain-would-be-big-enough-for-the-hen-harrier-and-the-grouse-if-it-werent-for-politics.html

        .

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    3. Thank you Stephen and Jeff πŸ™‚ I don’t mind at all if you use this platform for such a conversation, it is a subject that I am very interested in. I have always held the RSPB in high regard but then I have no inside knowledge.

      Stephen, your personal experience is of great interest to me. Your story of the Bitterns sounds all too familiar.

      I do not think that The Daily Telegraph can have any credibility in such a debate. It has a strong political bias and is a campaigner for all field sports. They regularly campaign for the return of Fox hunting with dogs. In this case their interest is obviously in support of Grouse shooting, which is 100% predictable from the Daily Telegraph.

      The “Brood management” of the Hen Harrier on Grouse moors seems to me to be an attempt to remove what little legal protection the birds now receive. It would give game keepers the right to remove Hen Harrier chicks from the moors and “relocate” them. I do not believe that there is any way that this can benefit the birds, it is a move designed to benefit the shooting fraternity at the expense of native wildlife. The RSPB would be right to oppose such a move. Are there any conservation groups that support it?

      Some of what the Telegraph says about fund raising is interesting but I would need to read it from a more honest and unbiased source.

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      1. Hi Colin – you’ve beaten me too it, I was going to say much the same thing. There’s been a concerted campaign by some newspapers and special-interest groups to discredit the RSPB, largely because of their stand against illegal persecution of raptors.

        Regarding management of reserves such as Marazion Marsh, I don’t know the details of how that site has changed but conservation management is always a compromise. For example, at sites close to us, willow trees fringing flooded gravel pits are being removed in some places to make the lakes more attractive to over-wintering wild fowl. Clearly that is going to affect local opportunities for tree-nesting and -roosting birds to find sites, but suitable trees are not rare in the wider landscape. However this management has had a strong positive impact on the numbers of wild fowl using the lakes, which were the target species.

        It’s impossible to manage for everything in the relatively small nature reserves that we have in Britain.

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  14. Some lovely photos. You are quite right about the rather silly way you are asked to count. We did it on Sunday and we were “economical with the truth” as they say. It is far more significant in a city that ten House Sparrows visited a quarter of an hour before the official start as did two Stock Doves than to stick to the absolute truth. Blue tits are strange. Was it really jut the one coming back 82 times or are more than one involved?.

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    1. Thank you John πŸ™‚ Not only did the ones that didn’t show go unreported but I am quite sure that most of my numbers would have been too low, If I can see four Blue Tits on the feeders it is a good bet that there are really at least eight about.

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  15. I am so glad to have just found your blog, lovely post and photos on the RSPB birdwatch. We have two Robins this year, I am assuming a male and a female and a nest hopefully. Bumbarrels though, I can’t imagine calling those beautiful Long Tailed Tits such a name, we have had a group of 6 coming to the feeders here over the last few weeks, its been quite exciting.

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    1. Thank you Julie πŸ™‚ I am pleased to have found your blog too. There are quite a few Robins around the farm here. I am not sure that last years broods have quite got themselves organised yet, there is a lot of chasing each other around going on.

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  16. Oh, it sounds like a fun and exciting thing to do. Thank you for identifying the birds. They are all little darlings. πŸ™‚

    I hope you don’t mind but you seem to be quite knowledgeable about birds and such. I encountered a rather unusual (for our backyard) species of bird the other day. We live in the northeast of the USA and the photo is here – https://mywordwall.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/words-are-birds/

    I would very much appreciate your help in the matter. Thank you very much. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you Imelda πŸ™‚ That is a tough one. I never get to see your American Birds and so I am going to tell you with some confidence that is a Northern Mockingbird πŸ™‚ Ha Ha! I don’t really know but I know a man who would know. Avian101 He is a kind and courteous man who responds to every comment. He lives in the USA and I am pretty sure that he could give you an answer straight away. Let me know if you find it πŸ™‚

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