The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch: calling all twitchers

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch runs each January. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s the weekend when all twitchers, ornithologists and bird watchers are called upon to look to the skies and take part in the biggest nature survey in the country.

How to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch?

If you’re itching to take part, your first stop should be the RSPB website, where you can register your details and sign up for loads of interesting information on birds and how to help them.

They also have some amazing educational information and projects you can do with the children.

Then when the bird watch weekend arrives, spend just one hour watching and recording the types of birds that you spot in your garden, park or other outside space. Then you submit your important findings for the people at the RSPB to collate and publish.

The aim is to attempt to keep track of our bird population so that we can start to take steps to protect the most at risk species.

How to make your garden bird friendly

You might assume that birds visit your garden every day because you hear them chirping away as you wake up in the mornings. But how many of them are actually stopping by your garden on a regular basis? And what can you do to encourage them?

The essentials are fairly obvious and that’s food, water and shelter - especially in the winter months. There are many bird feeders on the market, ones that hang from tree branches and sit on top of posts, but what’s stopping you from making your own? All you need is some bird seed, some solidified lard and a container and you’re good to go!

We recommend that you keep bird feeders up high, especially if there are cats that also frequent your garden. The same goes for bird boxes. Providing clean water is a great way to encourage birds any time of the year and this can be placed in a bird bath or by your bird table.

The type of plants you have in your garden can also determine whether or not birds come back to visit and to give them a little helping hand. Plants and trees that produce berries, fruit and seed will make you very popular indeed. They also provide birds and other wildlife with shelter from the elements, as well as predators.

Top tips for bird watching

You don’t need a great deal of equipment to start bird watching. A pair of binoculars will help you spot birds at a distance without them needing to come too close.

Many bird watchers visit locations where certain birds are known to frequent and they sit in what’s known as a ‘hide’, which is a covered structure much like a shed.

Take a notepad and pen with you to record your results and a camera to take some pictures if you’re lucky enough to get close.

But the main thing you need when bird watching is patience, because you could be waiting a long time!

Common British birds

Here are just a selection of the birds you should be looking out for when you take part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and a few pointers to help you identify them.


1. Blackbird

The bright orange beak and golden eye ring makes this cheerful chap easy to spot in your garden.  The female, however, is dull in comparison with mainly brown plumage and beak, perfect camoflage when you are sitting on a nest of eggs.


2. Blue Tit

Tiny, but eye-catching, with their bright yellow and blue feathers.  Often seen in very large family groups.


3. Bullfinch

The bright pinky-red belly and black cap and tail, makes this handsome gentleman another easy spot.  The female has a similar cap and tail, but her belly is more of a yellowy-green.


4. Chaffinch

Claimed to be the most colourful of the finches, often seen clearing up fallen seeds under feeders and tables.  The male has redish-brown feathers and is easily seen when he flies revealing a white flash on his wings.  The female is endowed with a blend of brown feathers, though she too carries a white flash on her wings.  Their vocal range is as varied as it is loud, so you will most likely hear them coming!


5. Coal Tit

One of the smaller members of the Tit family, this little fella is identifiable by his black cap and white strip along the back of his head.  Often seen hanging in trees such as conifers feasting on seeds.


6. Collared Dove

It's not hard to see where the names comes from, the grey-pink doves have a clear black band around almost all of their neck.  Often heard and recognised by their familiar cooing.


7. Dunnock

Also known as the 'Hedge Sparrow' though not actually related to the sparrow at all.  Often seen in and around the base of hedges and shrubs, choosing to dash around in a seeming panic rather than fly.


8. Firecrest

This stunning little bird is tieing in first place with the Goldcrest for Britains smallest bird.  Brighter than its rival, the white eye-stripe and yellow-orange flash on their heads makes them stand out.  Often seen in trees, shrubs and dense climbers grabbing the insects with amazing precision.


9. Goldcrest

Slightly duller in colour than the Firecrest, though easier to see the difference between the sexes, the male has a vibrant orange flash on this head, whereas the female chooses a yellow headdress.  Much like the Firecrest they too like to pick the small insects out of trees and shrubs, or if the opportunity arises they have no issue with stealing a meal from a spiders web.


10. Gold Finch

Once of the most beautiful reason for non dead-heading your seeding flowers in the garden.  Their pointed beak is perfect for extracting seeds and their bright red faces and yellow wing flashes make them easy to pick out from the crowd.


11. Greater Spotted Woodpecker

The up and down path of this birds flight is one of their trademarks, along with their loud cry and red base to their tale.  The male has a red patch on the back of his head, the female looks almost identical to the male but without the red patch.


12. Great Tit

The largest in the Tit family, easily identified by the thick black band down their yellow chest, white patch under the eye and black glossy cap. 


13. Green Finch

Eye catching with their bright yellow wing flash among green coloured feathers, which is very apparent when they fly.  A popular visitor to seed feeders and often found nesting in dense garden shrubs.


14. Jay

Without doubt, these handsome birds are the most stunning in the Crow family. Their screeching cry is hard to miss, and they can occasionally be seen hopping along the ground looking for a place to bury their food for collection in winter.


15. Long Tailed Tit

As their name suggests, this pretty little bird has a very long tail.  Often found hanging around in large family groups and taking it in turn to visit feeders.  If you see one or two on your seed feeders, look at nearby trees and shrubs and you are likely to see quite a few more!


16. Nuthatch

Originally, and more suitably, known as the Nutcracker due to its ability to wedge nuts into nooks and gaps in trees, then hack them open to feed on.  The woodpecker like action can easily be seen when they visit your peanut feeder.


17. Redwing

This speckled bellied bird is actually Britains smallest true thrush and is mostly seen in winter stripping trees and shrubs of their berries.  The bright eye make-up and red patches under their wings make them identifiable.


18. Robin

As Britains favourite bird very little introduction is required here.  Despite their winter festive connections, the Robin will sing all year round. Often seen fighting with rival Robins, most gardens will only have one, very territorial nesting pair.


19. House Sparrow

Although this rather noisy family group is seen as one of the most common birds in our gardens, sadly the numbers are on such a sharp decline that they are now classed as at risk.  The make has much bolder colours with dark eye surrounds.  The female is much lighter, paler brown with pale flashes above her eyes and a lighter coloured beak.


20. Wood Pigeon

These big eaters are the 5th most recorded bird in the country.  Normally a grey/blue colour but are sometimes seen all white.


21. Wren

Often seen with their tiny tail pointed up vertically, darting around shrubs and hedges gathering small insects.  Their vocal abilities make up for their small size, and the Wren is classed as the commonest UK breeding bird.


So now that you know a little bit more about birds and how to spot them, we hope you will take part  in January.