26 Years of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch: Getting Involved During Lockdown

As winter creeps into the landscape and a second lockdown keeps us close to home, our gardens are once again coming alive. Wrens creep through the undergrowth catching insects, Robins sing to defend small territories, and Long-Tailed Tits flit between hedgerows foraging in family groups. It’s not just the birds though, other species are settling down to see out the winter in our gardens too, from butterflies and toads to hedgehogs and ladybirds.

With this year being a bit different, I have found it a great time to take part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, to further connect with nature, boost my mental health, and do my bit. Gardens are very important homes for wildlife, not just at this time of year, so now is an important time for us to understand how we can better help the wildlife that share our gardens with us. If you have a bit of time on your hands, want to do something a bit different, or are interested in the wildlife on your doorstep, then this survey could be just what you need!

The BTO and the Garden BirdWatch

So, what is the BTO? Well, the BTO stands for the British Trust for Ornithology, where ornithology refers to the study of birds. Started in Oxford in 1933, this now Norfolk-based charity aims to engage people with science whilst advancing the understanding of birds and now other wildlife species. With over 60,000 dedicated volunteers, and projects ranging from bird ringing and Cuckoo tracking to urban gull and bat surveys, the BTO has gone from strength-to-strength.

Set up in 1995, one popular BTO project has been the Garden Birdwatch, a project aiming to understand the relationship between wildlife species and our gardens, and how and why some of these species populations may be undergoing change. In a nutshell, the Garden BirdWatch is about participants recording the birds they see in their garden, along with mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, bumblebees, and dragonflies. As vital habitat for wildlife continues to decrease, whilst the importance of gardens as substitute habitat increases, the information we can provide now can be used to better tailor help to support wildlife in the future.

So why should you take part? Well, the Garden BirdWatch is a great way to enjoy the wildlife in your garden, improve your knowledge, and allow you to follow the annual cycle of life. Taking part is also easy! All you need is a garden, a minimum of 20 minutes a week, and a way to identify the species you see. You do not need to have a big or elaborate garden, put food out, or be an expert. With the Garden BirdWatch currently being free for a year, signing up is easy. Provide a few details about your garden, and get started recording the garden birds and other wildlife that visit you.

Why not join thousands of other volunteers today, and do something new from the comfort of your own home!

Examples of Results

Last year marked the 25th year of the Garden BirdWatch, and so the BTO have now been able to use 25 years of weekly garden observations to begin analysing the relationship between our gardens and wildlife. For example:

  • Goldfinches, Woodpigeons, Nuthatches, and Jackdaws have become an increasingly common sight in our gardens, relying on our gardens for vital foraging habitat
  • Song Thrushes, Greenfinches, Starlings, and House Sparrows have become a less common sight in our gardens since 1995, due to a range of factors from disease to loss of habitat

I have now been taking part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch for the last 21 weeks. This time has gone past so fast, but has opened my mind to the diversity and abundance of species that visit my garden through the seasons. To sum up my time so far, here are some of my results:

  • I have observed 26 different bird species in my garden, with the most abundant species being Starlings (50 on 28th July) and House Sparrows (40 on 28th July), followed by Goldfinches (30 on 1st October)
  • Every week Blue Tits, Great Tits, Collared Doves, Pheasants, Goldfinches, and House Sparrows have been consistently recorded
  • As summer has moved into autumn and winter, Coal Tits, Jackdaws, and flocks of Goldfinches have become newly reliant on my garden, whereas Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, flocks of House Sparrows, Pheasants, flocks of Starlings, and Sparrowhawks have decreased their visits
  • No week or month has been the same, with summer highlights including Greenfinches, Siskins, Chiffchaffs, and Garden Warblers!

So, why not see what wildlife you can encounter this winter?

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