It’s that time again to find a comfy chair by the garden window or wrap up warm and head to the local park armed with your bird guide, notepad and a flask of hot chocolate. Yes – it’s Big Garden Birdwatch time again!
Every year the RSPB encourages people across the UK to take part in a giant wildlife survey. Just set aside one hour from 27-29th January to note down which species of birds visit your garden and the maximum number of each species appearing at any one time during that period. They are also keen to hear about any other wildlife of the non-flapping variety that you see in your garden over the year.
We take part every year. It’s a great opportunity for young children to learn or expand their bird recognition skills and I’m yet to meet a little person that doesn’t enjoy waving a pair of binoculars about, even if not always for their intended purpose… Schools and groups can take part too. The more the merrier!
If sitting still is not yet their forte and you’ve got lots of glass in your viewing room then try rigging up a sheet to keep dancing tots hidden up to nose height. If you’re outside then making your own bird hide screen is a fun activity to try with an old sheet, a few garden canes, clothes pegs and, if you’re feeling creative, some paint!
As well as the bird watching our kids love getting involved in bird related activities such as making bird puddings, cleaning out and topping up the feeders, checking the bird bath water levels and keeping a close eye out for any secret places the birds might be hiding out of view in the garden. Ours still giggle over finding three fat pheasants snoozing in our oak tree. If I didn’t have the photos to prove it, I’d think we had all dreamt that one! Precarious doesn’t even cover it!
Getting involved in a citizen science project is also a lovely way to show older kids that small actions can have big consequences. My mind boggles at the amount of data that is collected across the UK from just one weekend. Last year around 500,000 people took part!
As well as spotting the birds, it’s also a perfect time to take a good look around the garden and check out perimeters, compost heaps or pond edges for clues to other wild visitors. You may be surprised who borrows your garden when you’re not in. We have gained a regular Muntjac deer visitor to our garden since our trip to Australia in the autumn who looked as just as surprised to find us peering out at her one day as we were to see her.
Once you’ve recorded your results (and no birds visiting during your allotted time is just as important to record), head over to the RSPB website to record your findings. The results are used to track trends in bird numbers and species over time, helping to ring early alarm bells in the case of a particular species struggling and even heralding the arrival of new or unseasonal visitors. For instance, starlings have dropped by 81% since the Big Garden Birdwatch started its records in 1979.
To find out more, register and download your free kid friendly free Big Garden Birdwatch pack (spotter guide, bird food recipes and nature-friendly year planner included) , head over now to the RSPB website.