Birdwatching for Beginners - Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!

If rumours are to be believed, it is no longer the reclusive middle-aged pastime, no, millennials are now flocking to … birdwatching!

Birdwatching for Beginners - Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!

Just like meditation, journalling and rambling, birdwatching brings a new mindfulness to our busy lives, and one can be completely entranced; drawn into and absorbed by the beauty of nature and the flocks’ social dynamics. Indeed, an article by the Telegraph states that ‘It’s meditation in the sense that it’s immersive and therapeutic, but birdwatching can also be more visceral than any theatre. There is death, love and beauty: the horror of the migratory impulse which lures incomprehensibly fragile little birds over perilously stormy seas; the joy when a pair reunites after months apart; the mystery of starling murmurations, in which thousands of the birds, densely-packed, ripple through the air like iron filings manipulated by an unseen magnet.’

Whilst it’s recommended that a novice birdwatcher uses a guidebook or app to look up birds and their songs, and visit a local RSPB reserve to be gifted with a plethora of feathered friends, this weekend - the 26-28 January - marks the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, a great excuse to watch your garden birds.

With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with almost 40 years worth of data, the Big Garden Birdwatch allows the RSPB to monitor trends and understand how birds are doing. Although as a nation we've lost more than half our house sparrows and some three-quarters of our starlings - it isn't all doom and gloom. Since Birdwatch began blue tit numbers have risen by 20 per cent and the woodpigeon population has increased by a whopping 800 per cent. By testing your bird spotting skills and submitting your findings this weekend, it gives scientists valuable information about our local bird populations, and what we can do to help.

Our top tips for starting your foray into twitcherdom this weekend?

  1. Choose a good place to watch from. Which window gives you the best view? Make sure it's comfy and you have the essentials within easy reach - a nice, hot drink and your favourite biscuits - and somewhere to jot down what you see.

  2. Relax and watch the birds for an hour. Count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and later another two, and after that another one, the number to submit is three. That way, it’s less likely you’ll double-count the same birds.

  3. Head over to the Big Garden Birdwatch page and submit what you’ve seen.

So who can you keep an eye out for in your garden or outdoor space?

  • A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors, while its less colourful relative - the coal tit - has a distinctive grey back, black cap, and white patch at the back of its neck.

  • Everyone knows the house sparrow, but its numbers have dropped alarmingly. They're still common garden visitors in many areas, though. Males have a black chin and 'bib'; females are dressed in more subtle shades of brown.

  • You may be able to spot a chaffinch hopping on the ground, looking for seeds. Male chaffinches have a subtle pink breast, while females are more brown. They both have distinctive black and white flashes on their wings.

  • It’s likely that you will hear the collared dove before you see it, with its comforting ‘coo-coo-coo-coo’ call. A pale, pinky-brown grey colour, with a distinctive black neck collar, They have deep red eyes and reddish feet, and are responsible for repetitive cooing songs and those twiggy nests on your satellite dish.

  • The woodpigeon, however, is now the UK's largest and commonest pigeon, and is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Woodpigeons also have beautiful pinkish and turquoise hints to their plumage.

  • You may spot the classic blackbird and also their smaller friend the starling. Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointy head and wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. In winter they're covered in pale spots - which gives them their name.

Ensure you have a mixture of foods out to tempt your new feathered friends into the garden, remember that whilst some birds like chaffinches are not so keen on using bird feeders and generally prefer to shuffle around on the ground, picking up seeds that other birds have dropped; others like blackbirds eat a variety of foods, from earthworms to fruits like apples and berries. Visit the RSPB website to explore more of the perfect menu for your birdwatching weekend!

I would love to know, how will you #BigGardenBirdWatch? Do you have plans to register onlineand gather much valued data, or are you planning to venture further afield to your nearest hide?


Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.