Sitting back and counting birds for a relaxing hour

It’s all hands on deck at the RSPB as staff prepare for the annual birdwatch.

Thursday, 23rd January 2014, 11:03 am
Sarah Houghton

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch started in 1979 and it has been steadily growing in size and scientific importance. This year’s event takes place on Saturday and Sunday (January 25 and 26).

Sarah Houghton, one of the project’s managers at the charity’s Sandy base, said: “It started as a children’s event and only for members. Since then it has grown and grown.

“In 2001 we opened it up to adults as well (we decided the children couldn’t have all the fun!) and also to the whole public.

Sarah Houghton

“In the first year 35,000 people took part and last year it was 589,000. People seem to love doing it. It gives them an excuse to sit down and watch the birds for an hour.”

Participants record how many birds of each species visit their garden during an hour. The data is collated to monitor trends over time.

This has highlighted a substantial decline in house sparrows and starlings. One cause is thought to be a loss of nesting sites as well as habitat changes such as the loss of hedgerows.

This year the RSPB has a new gadget on its website to make it even easier for birdwatchers to log their results.

Sarah said: “We will have an online bird counter over the weekend. In the past you could submit your results online or on paper afterwards.

“This year you can also do a birdwatch live on the computer and input the birds as you see them. There will be a clock counting down and a few bits of trivia and quizzes popping up. It can seem a hassle to submit the results afterwards, especially if you haven’t seen much. People think if they’ve not seen anything much it’s not valuable but it is.”

Birdwatchers will also be asked whether they usually see animals such as badgers and hedgehogs in their garden as well.

After the results deadline on Sunday, February 16 the thousands of paper forms and online submissions will be collated.

The data will then go to the scientists and two weeks later they will tell the other RSPB staff the results and the main points to highlight. The results will be published on Thursday, March 27.

Go to to find out more, while you can see Sarah talking more about the birdwatch at

Additionally there will be a free Birdwatch weekend at The Lodge reserve in Sandy.

Go along between 11am and 3pm on either day to see if you can add to the day’s bird and wildlife list and get useful tips for identifying birds.

RSPB staff and volunteers can advise about making your garden wildlife friendly and feeding the birds. There will also be regular guided walks.