RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2021: how to take part in the birdwatching event - and how to attract birds to your garden

For over 40 years, the project has helped inform specialists about the challenges facing wildlife

The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend is back on 29-31 January, and the charity needs the nation’s help.

You may have spent so much time in your garden and local green spaces over the past year, you know them like the back of your hand.

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But, do you know how many birds land in your garden at any one time? If not, then this weekend could be the perfect time to get counting.

The RSPB are counting on the nation to look out for birds in their garden this weekend (Picture: Shutterstock)

Here is how you can get involved, what to expect and how the Birdwatch helps bird species in the UK.

What is the RSPB Birdwatch?

The Big Garden Birdwatch is a Live event which takes place annually, across a weekend.

This year, it will take place on 29-31 January.

The weekend begins with a Friday night quiz - where wildlife novices can learn about the animals in their garden and experts can test their knowledge.

People all across the UK are asked to get involved, by taking photos, engaging on social media, counting the birds in their garden and educating themselves on how they can be more wildlife friendly.

There will be live footage available on the RSPB website across Saturday 30 January and Sunday 31 January, and various birdwatching experts - such as preservationists, environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts - sharing facts and tips on wildlife conservation.

How can I get involved?

The Big Garden Birdwatch invites everyone to get involved, even if you do not have a garden.

People of all levels of expertise can take part - whether you are a one-off birdwatcher for the weekend or take your binoculars on birdwatching adventures regularly.

In 2021, the RSPB is encouraging you to stay at home while birdwatching and make use of only your garden, or local parks and greenspaces which you can observe from your window.

The wildlife conservation charity has asked that people count the number of birds in their garden (or other greenspace) at any one time, not a total of the number in your garden across the whole day.

You should also record the different species of birds. The RSPB has provided a list of birds and their characteristics to help you identify them.

The charity asks that you record the birds which have landed - not in flight - so as to avoid counting them more than once.

You do not need to spend all day observing, this can easily be done by watching your garden for one hour and at any time of the day.

Once you have counted and identified the various species, you can then log onto the Birdwatch count portal of the website and record your observations.

You are also encouraged to take pictures of the birds you see, with photographer Ben Andrew providing tips on how to capture them in flight and in your garden.

Share your snaps, wildlife observations and get involved in learning more about them by joining in the conversation, using #BigGardenBirdwatch on social media.

How can I attract birds to my garden?

If you are keen to join in but don’t often see blackbirds, robins and magpies perched on your fence, there are some tips and tricks to bring your garden to life by attracting wildlife.

1. Provide food - bird seeders and loose seeds and nuts (such as peanuts and sunflower seeds) are a good option for attracting finches, blue tits and great tits.

You could always leave out leftovers such as bread, dried fruitcake and apple or pears. You should be careful not to put out anything which can go mouldy and do not put dried fruit out in areas used by dogs as raisins and vine nuts could prove toxic to them.

2. Leave food and feeders in sheltered areas which can be easily reached - such as on a garden fence where wind will not reach them and cats cannot lie in wait.

3. Provide fresh, clean water - birds are attracted to fresh water supplies and can struggle to get access to water in icy conditions. A shallow plant pot or dish is ideal, as is a water fountain or feature. Replace the water each day.

4. If you are using a reusable water container or feeder, remember to clean it regularly as bacteria from rain and nature can lead to a buildup of toxins which could be harmful to birds. Use a non-toxic disinfectant, wear gloves and scrub the inside and outside of the containers with a long bristled brush.

How does counting birds help wildlife in the UK?

The Birdwatch began in 1979 and has had a profound impact on the research of bird numbers and behaviours over the past 42 years.

The records of birds in gardens allow environmentalists to understand which birds are still residing in the UK and what the average number of each bird is.

Comparing data from 1979 and 2020, the survey was one of the first to identify the decline of song thrushes.

This bird had been one of the most recognisable birds in 1979, but declined rapidly to be the 20th most spotted bird by 2019 - a decline of 79 percent.

Sparrow numbers also declined by 53 percent in the years since 1979, however in the last decade these numbers have climbed by 10 percent, a sign the population is recovering.

The Big Garden Birdwatch also seeks to encourage people to become more aware of the wildlife around us which may require our help in staying alive - such as providing food and water in the winter.

It’s hoped that the birdwatching weekend event will lead to more enthusiastic, regular birdwatchers who recognise when birds are in danger or face environmental challenges.