40 years of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch: How can you get involved?

Next weekend the RSPB is holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch. Many people may have heard of this event before and may have even participated in it (if so thank you), but many people may have never heard of it before though. Either way, with the event celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the Birdwatch’s interesting history, wide-ranging impact and more importantly how you could get involved this year to help make it the biggest year yet!

For those of you who may not know, the RSPB (standing for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) was founded in 1889 by ornithologist Emily Williamson with the aim of stopping birds being exploited for fashion. Over the following 130 years, the RSPB has grown in size and popularity, and among other things, has acquired at least 209 nature reserves, raised lots of money for conservation projects and created many popular events such as the annual Big Garden Birdwatch. Following its start as an event aimed at children in 1979 in collaboration with Blue Peter, the Birdwatch has now been running for an amazing 40 years, with the hope of many more years to come.

With over half a million people taking part each year now, the Big Garden Birdwatch has officially become the world’s largest wildlife survey. Clocking up over 8 million watch hours and more than 130 million bird sightings, the survey has amassed four decades worth of valuable results for the RSPB. What happens each year to these results though? Well once collated into one big data set they are analysed to monitor trends, and allow us to understand the state of British wildlife such as to identify species declines, and to help protect and conserve it.

To give you an idea of some of the basic results the Birdwatch can provide, lets take a look back at some of last year’s results published by the RSPB. To start, the top 10 garden birds in the UK and Northern Ireland in 2018 were found to be:

2018 big garden birdwatch results

(c) RSPB

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blue tit
  4. Blackbird
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch (11% rise from 2017)
  7. Great tit
  8. Robin
  9. Long-tailed tit
  10. Chaffinch

The 2018 survey also showed big increases from the past year in the number of sightings of winter visitors, such as siskins and bramblings, and a 5% increase in greenfinch sightings. Despite house sparrows being the most commonly seen species in our gardens in 2018, since its beginning, the Big Garden Birdwatch has seen house sparrow sightings drop year on year, with a 57% decline over 40 years.

In relation to the survey itself though, since 1979 participants have increased in number from approximately 34,000 children to more than half a million individuals of all ages. Whatever your experience or knowledge of birds and wildlife, this is one event where anyone can now get involved. In addition to helping out the RSPB, this survey could also have wide ranging benefits for yourself too. For example it could:

  • Allow you to take a moment to appreciate what is in your garden or local green space
  • Aid your mental health by spending time out in nature and/or being mindful of your local wildlife
  • Allow you to get involved in citizen science where your involvement could have a big difference for scientific knowledge and species conservation
  • It is a bit of fun!

So, if you are interested in the world’s largest wildlife survey, how could you get involved? First, go to the ‘Bird Garden Birdwatch 2019’ section of the RSPB website and either request a free postal pack, download a counting form and bird ID guide or decide to complete the Birdwatch online. Then pick a day between 26th-28th January to sit and watch the birds in your garden or local green space. Follow the rules for counting the birds, and when your hour is complete either send your results to the RSPB by post or online. How you do your Birdwatch though is entirely up to you. It’s simple!



As a result, the Big Garden Birdwatch has now helped to inspire many new generations of birdwatchers and I can say that I am included among them. This was evident at the age of 12, when I decided to write a piece for my local magazine trying to get more people (even then) involved in the Birdwatch. Though my knowledge, writing and understanding of the world has come a long way over the last 11 years, my passion for wildlife, its conservation and its communication have remained the same. So why not listen to 12 year old Laura, do the same as me, and take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch!

big garden birdwatch article

This blog post has been written independently from the RSPB, but all RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch resources and facts used in this blog post, such as seen in the photos of the resources included in the postal pack I received, are entirely the property of the RSPB


One thought on “40 years of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch: How can you get involved?

  1. Hi
    I work at Bodam Nursery, I am looking for a poster that has either a map of Scotland or U.K. with the different types of birds. Or
    Just a poster with birds found in U.K. or Scotland


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