How many times have you opened the pages of a field guide and taken for granted the wealth of facts about the species featured? Behaviour, population estimates and distribution maps are all included, but where does the information come from? Believe it or not, it’s largely from amateur naturalists like you and me.



Contributing records can be as simple as participating in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, which will take up just one hour of your time once a year. Alternatively, you could log your species lists online with BirdTrack, which is hosted by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and collates observations of bird movements from all over the country.

Don’t forget that it’s important to record negative results, too. The fact that you saw no sparrows or black-headed gulls one day when you were tripping over them on your last visit is important.

Studying every aspect of a particular species is another option. Once you become familiar with a common bird such as a robin and have read all of the relevant scientific literature, you may find that, one day, you notice some behaviour that nobody has recorded before.

Migration studies are very popular, with data collected from what birders call ‘viz migging’ (visible migration watching to you and me; I’ll discuss this more in my next column). There’s also bird ringing. Rings are inscribed with details such as species, sex, age and where the individual was captured, and fitted on birds’ legs by trained experts.

However, if you want to get involved, you have to spend several years learning the ropes from a licensed trainer, so it’s definitely a serious commitment. Contact the BTO or click here for more information.

Finally, you can always dedicate your spare time to volunteering on a nature reserve. Rolling up your sleeves and helping with habitat management is one option; another is galvanising other people into supporting conservation efforts. Either way, you will be playing your part and helping wildlife.

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Top tip

Share all of your observations, because you may not realise how important they are.

Visit David's website to read more of his great birding tips.


To find your nearest nature reserve, click here. To find your nearest wildlife trust, click here. To find your nearest wetland centre, click here.


David LindoAuthor, birder and public speaker