The Big Garden Bird watch is a great opportunity for monitoring bird populations. It also provides a snapshot indication as to the health of our ecosystems. But perhaps as equally important as the science is the spark of interest it can create about the natural world.
Although it is a great way in for those looking to learn more about the birds and other animals visiting their gardens and local parks, the thought of identifying bird species can be off-putting. But there’s no need to worry, no one expects you to be Bill Oddie or Chris Packham when you’re starting out and there are birds on this planet that we dare say even Bill and Chris would struggle to identify.
For all those wanting to venture into wildlife watching but not sure if you can tell your warblers from your wagtails, we’ve asked one of our resident birders, 14 year old Daniel Canning for what he does when he sees or hears a bird that he doesn’t know. We join Daniel as he embarks on the Big Garden Bird Watch to find out...
The Big Garden Birdwatch is the largest garden wildlife survey in the world, with over 500,000 people taking part last year. It has been run by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) since it began in 1979, when it was just for kids, but adults have been able to join in since 2001. I’ve taken part for the last 3 years, and during the birdwatch have seen birds in my garden such as Goldcrests and Blackcaps.
There are some birds that can be quite tricky to tell apart, for example, the Blue Tit, Great Tit and the Coal Tit. The way that I distinguish them is that the Coal Tit is the smallest, and quite dull compared to the other two, with a big white stripe down the back of its head. The Blue Tit is slightly bigger than the Coal Tit, and is colourful, looking daintier than the Great Tit, and the top of its head is blue. The Great Tit is the biggest, with a black ‘mask’ and the male has a very pronounced black stripe down the front of its body, whereas the females’ stripe isn’t as large or obvious.
When identifying birds, it’s helpful to have a good camera. That way you can take photographs and then check the features in a bird book. I have numerous British bird books but my favourite is ‘The RSPB Handbook to British Birds’. It has drawings of birds rather than photographs, but goes into a lot of detail about their habitats, the colourings and plenty of identification information.
I also use the internet to help identify birds. The RSPB website is great for learning the bird calls, and it also has blogs where you can list the details of the bird you’ve seen, giving as much information as possible and other bird enthusiasts will help you identify it.
Another website I enjoy using is Rare Bird Alert. I like to keep an eye on this site to see if any rare birds have been spotted in my area. On one occasion, I read that a rare Sabine’s Gull had been spotted nearby at Pennington Flash. I was fortunate enough to get there the next day and saw other bird spotters who pointed out the gull to me.
This year, I chose to do the Big Garden Birdwatch at Knowsley Safari. I visited on the Sunday afternoon and it was very busy, so unfortunately not ideal for birdwatching, but even so, I saw a wide variety of species:
- 40+ Canada Geese
- 100+ Black Headed Gulls
- 1 Grey Heron
- 150+ Jackdaws
- 2 Pheasants
- 2 Gadwall
- 3 Little Grebes
- 2 Mallards
- 6 Tufted Ducks
- 2+ Blue Tits
- 3+ Great Tits (heard singing)
- 2+ Goldcrests (also heard singing)
- 5+ Common Gulls
- 30+ Herring Gulls
- 5 Magpies
- 5 Lesser Black-Backed Gulls
- 8+ Coots
- 2 Robins (heard singing)
- 2 Dunnocks