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The Big Garden Birdwatch: What, Why, Where and How?

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or feathered friends aren’t quite your thing, the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is for everyone. It’s your chance to play scientist for a day and collect valuable data to help save the nation's favourite birds.

Robin from a garden hide. Image Credit: Ian Kirk on Wikimedia Commons.

The RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) runs the Big Garden Birdwatch every year at the end of January, it’s been running for 45 years and gets bigger every year. The data collected allows the charity to understand population trends of birds all over the country, seeing peaks and falls in their numbers and where they may be more widespread or not. With this, they can then figure out what species need their help. For example, in 2021 the greenfinch moved onto the IUCN ‘red list’, meaning its numbers dropped dramatically. Coming in at spot 18 on the RSPB’s rankings last year (2023), where it was once at number 7 in 1979. This shows the huge decline in our previously common garden birds, something that will only continue to get worse without our help.

The RSPB itself is one of the biggest wildlife conservation charities in Europe. They began in 1889, founded by an incredible woman called Emily Williamson. She advocated for the birds whose feathers were being used in hats and other fashion items, leading them almost to extinction. Now the RSPB have reached record numbers, with 1.1 million members, organising projects all over the world, and over 1 million people taking part in the birdwatch in 2023, they really are a force to be reckoned with.

RSPB at the great British beer fest. Image Credit: Philafrenzy on Wikimedia Commons.

The name ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ can be misleading, because you don’t actually need a garden. You can watch from a local park, a balcony or head to a nearby bird hide. The main thing to remember is that this isn’t meant to be a competition, the aim isn’t to see the most birds or the rarest species, the aim is to help the birds. This means even if you don’t see a single bird, this is still incredibly valuable data.

Once you’ve got a location set, head out over the weekend of the 26th - 28th of January. You can pick any of the 3 days you like and it only requires an hour of your time. You can even get a group together and make a day of it - but please remember only one set of data will be submitted from a group. If you’re not great at bird identification yet, you can still join in on the fun, RSPB will send you a handy dandy bird guide when you sign up. Or grab a bird nerd friend to come with you, I'm sure they’ll willingly oblige.

Nuthatch taken in Hertfordshire, UK. Image Credit: Airwolfhound on Wikimedia Commons.


What’s great about this, is it’s not just about saving the birds but also about educating people. As we’re out and about counting birds, the UK’s kids are also getting an important lesson in nature with the big school’s birdwatch. Which sees school children spending an hour of their school day learning about their local bird life. Whilst still helping the RSPB collect data. It’s a win-win for everyone. If you work in a school, sign up for the big school’s birdwatch here.

Using a bird book to identify species. Image Credit: Pacific Southwest region USFWS on Wikimedia Commons.


 This is your opportunity to be a part of something huge and meaningful, and get involved in the world's biggest citizen science project. Make a difference, learn something new and feel like you’re doing something worthwhile by signing up here.  An hour of your time is a small sacrifice to make for the lives of thousands of bird species.

About the Author: Amy Hall is an aspiring conservation communicator currently studying MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation with Edinburgh Napier University. Having grown up on the Isle of Wight, now living in Cornwall, she’s in touch with nature and uses it as a source of inspiration. Now this is being channeled into writing articles and spreading that love for that outdoors, to inspire others. Follow @amyinthewild_ to find out more!


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