Big Garden Birdwatch 30-31 January 2010

Now in it’s 31st year the RSPB big Garden Birdwatch is hoping to gather even more sightings of garden birds than ever before.

Around half a million people are expected to be watching the garden birds this weekend (30-31 January 2010) for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

As Britain has endured its harshest winter since the launch of Big Garden Birdwatch over 30 years ago,

Song thrush Credit: David Tipling, RSPB Images

Song thrush Credit: David Tipling, RSPB Images

The RSPB is particularly keen to know how the wintry conditions have affected garden bird numbers and whether people see any unusual visitors.

Harsh weather

There has been huge interest in garden birds during the snowy weather, with RSPB switchboards and website being inundated with people looking for advice on feeding hungry garden birds and help identifying unusual visitors.

Big Garden Birdwatch should help the RSPB understand the effects of the prolonged cold weather.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said, “ We can expect to see some more unusual visitors to gardens, particularly redwings, fieldfares and tree sparrows that are struggling to find food elsewhere.”

The extraordinarily harsh weather is particularly bad for birds with small bodies like robins, long tailed-tits and wrens. Says Dr Avery, “ It’s unlikely the long tailed tit, which famously flew into tenth place in 2009, will remain in the top ten this year.

Robin in trouble

Sadly, we may even see the nation’s favourite garden bird, the robin, also fall out of the top ten in 2010. If this is the case, it’ll be the first time the robin hasn’t featured in the top ten since the start of the survey.”

The RSPB is also keen to identify any regional variations that occur as birds fly to milder regions in search of areas less affected by the weather or where natural food is still readily available.

Sarah Kelly, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator, said: “Big Garden Birdwatch is a fun, easy activity that anyone can do. All you need is a pen, some paper and just one hour of your time over the weekend 30-31st January.

Record the highest number of each species seen at any one time and send us your results. It’s that simple!”

Over 30 years, the Big Garden Birdwatch has seen more than 3 million hours clocked up watching and enjoying the birds that visit our gardens (that’s more than 380 years!), and every year, some 6 million birds are spotted.


RSPB Big garden Birdwatch counting sheet >>

RSPB garden bird identifier >>


The top 10 birds for each county in the UK, as recorded in Big Garden Birdwatch 2009.

Over the Big Garden Birdwatch 2009 weekend 73 different species were seen, but what were they? Download the Big Garden Birdwatch 2009 full results to find out.


1. Great spotted woodpeckers make their distinctive knocking sound by striking a branch with their bills 40 times a second!

2. Starlings are outstanding mimics, and incorporate accurate copies of sounds of other birds, frogs and mammals, and even of mechanical sounds into their song – once it was trim phones, now it’s car alarms!

3. Collared doves aren’t great nest makers – sometimes chicks fall through the flimsy branches.

Dunnock Credit: Steve Round

Dunnock Credit: Steve Round

4. Robins and wrens share a reputation for nesting in strange places – sheds, greenhouses, hanging baskets

5. Dunnocks are often chosen as hosts by cuckoos and the ‘step-parent’ may even have to stand on the back of its ‘offspring’ to feed it.

6. The goldcrest has to eat its own weight in food each day to survive the cold, winter nights!

7. Swifts and house martins sleep on the wing. Shortly before dusk, birds gather and ascend high up in the air to roost in a warmer air layer some 1,000-2,000m above ground.

8. Goldfinches are the home decorators of the bird world, sometimes they decorate the outside of their nests with aromatic flowers.

9. Woodpeckers have long been associated with water and it was often believed that a woodpecker drumming signified rain.

10. Robins first appeared on Christmas cards as a representation of Victorian postmen, who wore red tunics and were known as ‘redbreasts’. They are also associated with Christmas because they hold their territories by singing in the winter.

11. The usual flying speed of a sparrowhawk is 30-40 kph, but its capable of up to 50 kph in short bursts.

12. Starlings – You can tell the sexes apart by the colour of the base of the bill – blue for boys, pink for girls!

13. Swallows are considered to be a sign of good luck. Traditionally a farmer never destroyed a swallow nest in fear of the adverse events that might befall him.

14. During the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2006, more than 270,000 gardens were surveyed, that’s the equivalent of 7,000 football pitches!

15. The long-tailed tit makes a tennis-ball sized nest out of moss and spiders’ webs. As the fluffy chicks grow, the nest expands around them.

16. The willow tit likes to store food and may hide away as many as 4,700 food items, mostly insects and spiders.

17. Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, mainly during daylight, at speeds of 17-22mph.

18. Starlings often roost in massive numbers. These roosts are incredible spectacles, with some city hot spots containing over a million birds! Sadly, their numbers have declined by ¾ today –  so just image how big roosts used to be!

19. Despite being the most recorded garden bird of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2009, the house sparrow remains a red-listed species and is of conservation concern.

Wren Credit: Sue Tranter, RSPB Images

Wren Credit: Sue Tranter, RSPB Images

20. A blue tit weighs the same as a pound coin.

21. House martins fly all the way to tropical Africa for the winter, yet find their way back to exactly the same nest the following spring (and that’s without sat nav!)

22. Blackbirds love to sunbathe – they can often be seen on the ground with their wings spread.

23. If you love blue tits, head to Powys in Wales – during the 2008 Big Garden Birdwatch this is the place they were spotted most frequently.

24. The goldcrest is the smallest bird in Britain weighing under seven grams and with a wingspan of just 13-15 cm.

25. Many dozens of blue tits can pass through a garden on a single day even though there are never more than three or four at any one time.

26. If a long-tailed tit pair’s breeding attempt fails, the couple will split up and return to the nest of a sibling to help raise the chicks.

27. Almost nine million birds were counted as part of the RSPB’s 2004 Big Garden Birdwatch – that’s more than the combined human population of Scotland and Wales!

28. If you see a jay in your garden, there’s likely to be at least one oak tree nearby. Jays love acorns, and often bury stores of them for winter, accidentally causing new oak trees to grow.

29. Although generally it’s the male birds that do all the singing, female robins aren’t letting the boys have it all their own way! Robins are one of the few birds where the female sings too.

30. According to 2009 Big Garden Birdwatch results, chaffinches are the most common bird in Scottish gardens.

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