Get involved in the Big Garden Birdwatch

With its prime position on the coast, Portsmouth is fortunate that an abundance of overseas birds head this way to make our shores their home for part of the year.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 5:49 pm
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 2:58 pm
Starling...Credit: Ben Andrew

Nature lovers may be lucky enough to spot the blackcap, a European visitor, and the chiff chaff overwintering here.

During the past four decades there have been changing fortunes for many birds, with some numbers falling, while others have seen a boost.

To help the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds (RSPB) identify trends and bird types, the charity is calling on people to take part in the largest wildlife survey in the world.

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Woodpigeon on bird table. Credit: Chris Gomersall

The Big Garden Birdwatch, which has been running since 1979, is taking place Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

It offers the public the opportunity to tell their stories and contribute towards a snapshot of how birds are faring across the country by letting the RSPB know what they see.

People are asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space before sending in their results.

The popular annual event sees nearly half-a-million people join in every year in a number of different ways.

Since Birdwatch began 40 years ago, nearly nine million hours have been spent watching garden birds with more than 137 million birds counted.

Hampshire reflects the UK in terms of the two most popular birds seen in the garden, the house sparrow and the starling.

The third most popular bird across the country, though, is the blue tit, while in Hampshire that bird was ranked fourth – with the woodpigeon rated third.

‘The house sparrow is currently the most popular bird across the country and Hampshire but we can see from the trends that it is in decline and not faring so well,’ says Becca Smith, from the RSPB.

‘With Portsmouth being on the coast it means the city sees some interesting birds arrive from overseas, such as the blackcap and the chiff chaff.

‘There is more opportunity to see some types of birds in the area than you would expect to see in other parts of the country.

‘Climate change has led to more wintering birds coming to the UK but they may not necessarily come into our gardens because of the warmer conditions.’

The RSPB believes this year’s mild winter weather could see tiny garden visitors making a star appearance as warmer conditions give smaller birds a bigger chance of survival.

Petite birds such as wrens and long-tailed tits suffer during long, bitter winters but the warmer January weather this year may well have been a boon.

The RSPB has had reports of early nesting activity in some species, which is almost certainly linked to the higher temperatures.

But whether or not there are any differences in the birds being recorded remains to be seen.

Warmer temperatures can mean fewer birds come into gardens for food and shelter as conditions are good in the countryside.

‘We have found there are habitats in decline’, says Becca.

‘There is work for us to do to adapt our environment.

‘Birdwatch encourages people to help by doing things like feeding birds and putting out water in trays in their gardens.’

But while some birds are in decline others are thought to have seen an upward spike.

‘We have seen an eight per cent rise in blue tits for example,’ she adds.

‘This could be down to extra nest boxes suited to blue tits and more feed being put out.

‘They are a nice addition to the garden.

‘There are things people can do to help boost seeing more birds in their gardens, such as putting out mealworms which encourage sparrows.’

Overall, though, there is still more that needs to be done.

‘We need to make more habitats and retain good areas’, says Becca.

‘We need to create a greater link between wildlife and urban areas.

‘We need to make sure all birds have somewhere to go and have a space to be fed, especially over winter.’

Birdwatch is a fun activity to take part in, whether as a group of by yourself.

‘We encourage people to send in their stories,’ says Becca.

‘People enjoy getting involved in lots of different ways.

‘Birdwatch can be a lot of fun and is very inclusive, with young and old taking part, people on their own, or in groups.

‘We see people run events where lots of others take part, but we also see a lot of people doing things by themselves.

‘It is so easy to do, all you have to do is look out the window.’

The inclusive nature of the survey means people can take part alone or with a group of people.

Whichever way people take part, the RSPB says their involvement is crucial.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s chief executive said: ‘You don’t have to leave home to support nature.

‘For many people a great way to get more involved in nature is waiting for them just outside their window, watching the birds in their garden or local park.

‘The data gathered by Big Garden Birdwatchers over the past 40 years has helped chart the decline and rise of numerous species since the 1970s.

‘And contributing to that important piece of citizen science is, for many thousands of people, a first step in becoming champions for nature.’

To find out how to get involved, go to