Big Garden Birdwatch: when it is, how to take part, and species to look out for

Take part in the 42nd Big Garden Birdwatch and record your garden birds. Here is our guide on how to take part and birds to spot in your garden this winter.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus / Parus caeruleus) at bird feeder eating fat mixed with seeds and nuts in winter

The UK’s largest garden based citizen science project, the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch returns on 29th-31st January 2021. Find out how to take part and birds to spot in your garden this winter with our birdwatch guide.

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Since the Birdwatch began in 1979, more than 137 million birds have been counted across the UK, with avid birdwatchers spending 9 million hours recording their garden birds. The conservation charity says this has helped provide valuable insight on how species are faring.

In 2020, nearly half a million people took part, counting almost eight million birds over the weekend.

You may be interested in finding out more about wildlife in Januaryhow to connect with nature during the lockdown, and more nature activities for children.

What is the Big Garden Birdwatch?

2021 marks the 42nd RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which sees keen birdwatchers across the UK join the largest garden wildlife citizen science project by spending one hour tracking the birds they see in their gardens.

During that time, across the UK hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered their time. Last year, over 500,000 birds were counted by Big Garden Birdwatchers in Scotland giving real insight into how our birds are faring.

Why take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch?

Not only is it a great way to enjoy a spot of warm, winter birdwatching but it is also a vital opportunity for the RSPB to keep tabs on the population of British birds.

Since the Big Garden Birdwatch started in 1979, numbers of many species have been on the decline. These studies offer a chance to find out which species are struggling and perhaps provide clues as to why, and how they can be protected.

It also supplies conservationists with data tracing those birds that are doing well.

Birds such as the house sparrow, song thrush and starling have drastically declined since the late 1980s, while collared doves, woodpigeons and coal tit numbers have increased.

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird with more than 1.2 million recorded sightings in 2019.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is great activity for children to take part in, and can be a good way to introduce them to garden wildlife, how to identify species, and to taking part in citizen science surveys.

A toddler watching birds in the garden from inside. © Catherine McQueen/Getty
A toddler watching birds in the garden from inside. © Catherine McQueen/Getty

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

This year’s event takes place on 29th, 30th and 31st January 2021. The public is asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB.

Filling in survey form, Big Garden Birdwatch event, Rahul Thanki RSPB Images
Filling in survey form, Big Garden Birdwatch event/Rahul Thanki, RSPB Images

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2021, watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only count the birds that land, not those flying over. Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

How to submit your sightings from the Big Garden Birdwatch

Once you have recorded the birds that make a visit, submit your results online at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: “We know that for many people, garden birds provide an important connection to the wider world and bring enormous joy. Lockdown brought few benefits, but the last year has either started or reignited a love of nature for many people. There has been a broad and much-needed realisation that nature is an important and necessary part of our lives especially for our mental health and wellbeing. But nature needs us too.”

“By taking part in the Birdwatch, you are helping to build an annual snapshot of how our birdlife is doing across the UK. It is only by us understanding how our wildlife is faring that we can protect it. We know that nature is in crisis but together, we can take action to solve the problems facing nature.”

As well as counting birds, participants are once again asked to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year. Some of the other wildlife participants may have seen over the last year include foxes, hedgehogs, or red squirrels. Across the UK just 6% of those taking part had seen a red squirrel in their garden in the past year, while in Scotland 37% reported they had.

RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch

The parallel event RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term, 6 January – 21 February 2021. This year, it celebrates its 20th anniversary of connecting children with nature in their school grounds. Since its launch, over a million school children and teachers have taken part. Further information can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch

For your FREE Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a bird identification chart, top tips for your birdwatch, RSPB shop voucher, plus advice on how to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch


How birds are faring

For four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world. The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird with nearly 1.3 million sighted in 2020. The starling held down the second spot once more, with the blue tit completing the top three.

While house sparrows and starlings may be the UK’s most commonly sighted birds, a closer look at Big Garden Birdwatch data shows that numbers have in fact dropped dramatically since the Birdwatch began in 1979. House sparrows are down 53% while starlings are down 80%. It’s a pattern echoed by two more garden favourites, with blackbirds and robins down 46% and 32% respectively.

It was one of the first surveys to alert the RSPB to the decline in the number of song thrushes in gardens. This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979 but 30 years later its numbers are less than half those recorded in 1979. By 2019, numbers of song thrushes seen in gardens have declined by 76%, coming in at number 20.

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The top 10 birds in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

Rank. Species – average per garden (% of gardens species recorded in 2020)

1

House sparrow – 4.7 (64)

Male house sparrow. © Gerard Soury/Getty
Male house sparrow. © Gerard Soury/Getty
2

Starling – 3.0 (38)

Common Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Common starling showing off its beautiful plumage. © chris2766/Getty
3

Blue tit – 2.9 (80)

Blue tit. © Ray Kennedy/RSPB
Blue tit. © Ray Kennedy/RSPB
4

Woodpigeon – 2.3 (76)

Woodpigeon in a garden. © Paul Williams/Getty
Woodpigeon in a garden. © Paul Williams/Getty
5

Blackbird – 2.1 (85)

Male blackbird. © David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty
Male blackbird. © David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty
6

Goldfinch – 1.7 (32)

Goldfinch perched on a branch with berries. © Mark Hamblin
Goldfinch perched on a branch with berries. © Mark Hamblin
7

Great tit – 1.5 (58)

Great tit perching on the twig. © Torri Photo/Getty
Great tit perching on the twig. © Torri Photo/Getty
8

Robin – 1.4 (83)

Robin on post Getty
Robin. © Mark L Stanley/Getty
9

Long-tailed tit – 1.3 (30)

Long-tailed tits on a winter branch, Durham, UK. © Andrew Howe/Getty
Long-tailed tits on a winter branch, Durham, UK. © Andrew Howe/Getty
10

Magpie – 1.2 (55)

With its pied colouring, the Eurasian magpie is easy to identify. © Garden Picture Library/Getty
With its pied colouring, the Eurasian magpie is easy to identify. © Garden Picture Library/Getty