Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend
EMMA OUTTEN The word birdwatching may conjure up images of individuals with boots and binoculars scouring the countryside in all weathers.
The word birdwatching may conjure up images of individuals with boots and binoculars scouring the countryside in all weathers.
But, in reality, most birdwatching is done by "ordinary" people watching the birds in their garden or local park.
That is the belief of Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Richard Bashford, and from the common blackbird to the more unusual blackcap, UK birds will become the focus of the nation's efforts over Saturday and Sunday.
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Last year, nearly 400,000 people across the UK took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, six million birds were recorded and 210,000 gardens surveyed, all with the aim of finding out which is our most common garden bird.
Big Garden Birdwatch, now in its 27th year, aims to find out which birds are the most common visitors to UK gardens in winter (it also keeps an eye on how others are faring and produces a snapshot of winter bird populations).
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To give a few examples, the starling, beaten to the top spot by the house sparrow, has seen its numbers plummet from 15 per garden to an average of 4.3, a decline of 71pc.
The house sparrow, with an average of 4.8 per garden, has declined by 52pc since 1979 when an average of 10 birds were seen.
After a slight increase in recent years, song thrush numbers dropped again in 2005, and for the first time this red-listed species (red is the highest conservation priority) dropped out of the top 20 garden birds. It held 7th place in 1979.
Since 1979, Big Garden Birdwatch has provided valuable information, including how birds are faring in different geographical areas.
This is important since some species, declining across the UK, may actually be stable or increasing in certain parts.
The house sparrow is, for example, doing much better in Wales than in England. So the more people who take part, the better the information gathered will be.
To take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.
The morning is the best time to look, when the birds are out and about feeding after a cold winter night.
Mr Bashford added: "You don't have to be an expert to take part and it's a fun event designed for all the family.
"Whether you're young or old, an expert or a beginner, there really is no better place to start and the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch provides the ideal opportunity to begin a lifetime's interest."
For further information and online resources to help you with your birdwatch, take a look at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch - an online survey form will be available from the weekend of Big Garden Birdwatch until Friday, February 17.
Alternatively, Big Garden Birdwatch forms can be obtained by phoning 0870 600 7108 (calls charged at national rate). The hotline number will be open until 5pm tomorrow.