Sunday, 31 January 2010

Great British Garden Birdwatch

This weekend a great many families have been taking part in the world’s largest and longest running survey called “The Great British Garden Bird Watch”. This event started in the 1970s as part of the BBC childrens’ tv show – 'Blue Peter' – and quickly became a mainstream event, which has been run every year since 1979.

It’s quite simple with surveys, taken at home, or in local parks, being submitted over the internet or via snail mail (if the birds, in this cold, have left any snails) on a form duly provided by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Nuthatch (to the right)

Starling (below)

It’s become one of those annual family events looked forward to each January .. my goddaughter and her family take part. You might ask why do they expect us Brits to watch birds either through the window, or in special bird spotting tents in the garden, or from tree houses in winter – quite logical really: the cold weather brings birds into our gardens, looking for food and shelter – so surprisingly it’s pretty much the best time of year to watch garden birds.

Why again watch for only one hour? Well simple really .. the RSPB thought it better to have lots of surveys for an hour of watching, than probably many fewer surveys made over two or three hours. What happens if no birds are seen? Again it’s a matter of what’s missing on the survey, as much as which birds show up. This is where the results of the surveys have highlighted problems, which then form the first step to help aid species recovery.

Preparation in the garden is the key – feeders will need to be put out, so the birds are used to having a regular supply of food and rain water (keeping it ice free) ensuring that they’re likely to come into the garden. With the recent prolonged cold snap it is expected that there will be a wide range of birds, as every day birds need to find and eat food equivalent to 40% of their own body weight to survive – so putting out those supplies is a lifeline.

Blue Tit (to the right)

This year three to five year olds at school are taking part in the Little Schools’ Birdwatch, and have been setting up feeders near their classroom windows, so they can see the birds, which will hopefully inspire the little souls to grow up to be twitchers or bird lovers.

There are special bird recipes kids can make up – cheese crumble: grated cheese sprinkled on the bird table to be found by robins, thrushes and starlings, or hidden among the bushes and flowerbeds to be pecked on the ground by dunnock, wagtails and wrens.


Then there are cheesy fir cones: the gaps in pine or fir cones can be crammed with bird cake mixture, raisins, sunflower seeds, (good quality) peanuts, or bird seed, then hung from branches, the bird table or hide them under shrubs or bushes; the hanging cones are ideal for tits or finches; those on the ground or bird table will be found by starlings, blackbirds, thrushes, robins and sparrows.

Blackbird (below right)

How about a speedy bird cake? Mix together good quality bird seed, some peanuts, raisins and a little grated cheese; then add about 85 gm (3 oz) of softened suet or lard – mix well. Using an empty yoghurt pot for example – make a hole in the bottom, thread a knotted piece of string through, so that the pot will hang up, put in the ‘cake’ leave to set & then hang out. Or meld a few balls of the mixture and leave on the bird table. These will be loved by tits, greenfinch and possibly a great spotted woodpecker.

Last but not least – how about peanut butter cracks ?..... very easy. Just spread beanut butter into cracks in walls, fences or trees and you will attract tits, wrens and nuthatches.

Wren (our smallest bird)

Blackbirds in this country in the summer have the most wonderful dawn chorus, a really evocative mellow song, which really has to be considered the finest song of all British thrushes, and is the most common bird seen in our gardens. Recently I came home in the twilight and heard that magical song again .... so they have long days!
Robin (to the right)

Wild Monty – a British wildlife lover, who is not called Monty! – but blogs about the birds, wildlife, and plants around his home patch of Bristol. On a google ‘Cri de Coeur’, up popped Wild Monty with the answer to my summer dawn chorus .. that it must be a blackbird. Now I’ve popped back and he records having seen Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tits, Robins, a Wren, Blue Tits, a Great Tit, half a dozen Starlings, and as he describes them the usual gaggle of House Sparrows, three Blackbirds and a Grey Squirrel. In his local Park some other species. I must remember to keep looking at his blog as a learning curve and for general interest.

The most common birds in 2009 were the sparrow, starling and blackbird, while some of the most unusual birds included the skylark, the meadow pipit and the tawny owl. What will be found in 2010 – will the robin, that most English of birds featured predominantly at Christmas time, drop lower than its number seven of last year? We must wait and see.

House Sparrow
What birds do you have in your garden?
Blackbird Song, Garden Birds too - YouTube video:

Dear Mr Postman – my mother is getting better and though she now can’t hear – I guess because of the throat infection – it’s an improvement. It is now obviously difficult as she can’t hear – so communication is tricky .. let us just hope this comes back soon. Yesterday was glorious – we had bright blue skies and a lovely sun .. further up the country they were struggling with snowstorms again.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Wilma Ham said...

Oh your nature photos are always so beautiful and what a great thing to do.
We do not have as many birds as you expect in NZ, too many preditors like rats and skinks and weasels and possums.
We have lots of blackbirds though and John saw one with 4 insects in its mouth and still gathering.
I have seen sparrows, fan tails, tuis, swallows, pukekos, rosellas, doves, hawks, kingfishers, moreporks and one big black and white bird which name I cannot remember.
The morning and evening chorus is quite beautiful. Birds are spectacular to look at, I agree.
And pleased your mother is recovering somewhat and I do hope her hearing will return.
Love to you both, Wilma

Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - It's so cold we haven't seen anyone at the feeder for quite some time. I'd expect we'd have our cardinals through the winter, but everyone has hunkered in. Mostly we've had sparrows and chickadees through the winter. Spring birds will not appear for another six weeks in Minnesota. Interestingly, we've had another owl invasion - in 2005 we had thousands of great gray owls come down from Canada. This winter we are getting the small Boreal owl. Read about it here:

Daphne @ Joyful Days said...


I loved those pictures and being able to put a name to each bird. Thanks for this post! Hope your mother's hearing comes back soon.

Davina said...

Hi Hilary. I adore birds and could see myself making up one of those bird cakes if I had a home with a backyard. I used to have 3 birds before I moved to Vancouver: a Pekin Robin, Cockatiel and a Love Bird (Sunny, Tango and Chico). Gave them away because I didn't think they'd survive the trip across the country. In my area we have a lot of crows, some robins, and a couple of beautiful woodpeckers.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. thank you – it’s just a great event and I knew little about it, therefore it seemed sensible for me to find out more. I thought NZ would be ‘full’ of birds as you say – lots of kea’s I gather! Interestingly though (having just looked) apparently when Cook found the Islands – they were full of bird song! ... it wasn’t until us humans arrived that other species were introduced. Ecological niches normally occupied by rodents, kangaroos and moles, were filled by reptiles, insects and birds.

How lovely to have lots of singing blackbirds .. and interesting to read your bird list – a number I haven’t heard of. Dawn chorus is lovely .. ours is punctuated here by the crows, and gulls – I quite often have to hold the phone out .. so overseas friends can hear the gulls squawking as they twirl above?!

Thanks for the thought on my mother .. so do I.

Love to you and John, and Ann-Marie - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. I popped over to see the Boreal owl – isn’t he lovely .. and two beautiful pictures – cold though. It must be really cold up in Canada for them come a little further south. Interesting that you haven’t had any birds at the feeder though or as many as you’d like to see – the cardinals are such beautiful birds. Mid March for the spring birds – presumably migrating back north for the summer.

I'll have to report back on our results .. later on -

Thanks for coming by - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. good to see you - and I know you'll recognise some of the birds and names, having lived here for a while. Yes - I thought I'd put a few more pictures in (as many as the post could take - for me to learn from too!).

Thanks for your thoughts re my mother .. it's tricky - but she's always been grateful for us to be quiet and just hold her hand fortunately.

have a good week - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. good to see you. Your love of the outdoors, I can see, would bring birds into true focus .. the crows aren’t great lovers of other birds! Woodpeckers are so beautiful – two different friends in Cornwall say they see woodpeckers quite happily flying around, must be a lovely sight.

I too think I must do something for the birds, and those little cakes seem so easy! they have a hard time with the crows, gulls, and cats round here .. let alone people tidying up their gardens. Fortunately we do have parks nearby and wooded areas on the edge of the Downs.

How lovely to have birds at home – they must have given you so much pleasure – but I can see the long journey might have been too much.

Enjoy your week - Hilary

BK said...

It will surely be interesting to watch all these different birds in winter. I would have thought that they would be staying away. Never would I have thought that putting up feeders in the yard could attract such a wide varieties of birds.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK (Symphony of Love) .. thanks for being here - I know you think they'd hunker down - but no .. they need feeding everyday all year round.

I just found it interesting to learn a little more about our birds that I had very little idea about - and here in the middle of town there's a few around even in our tiny gardens.

Good to see you - I think I must sort feeders out in the future and water, which I haven't done so far - then see what happens next year.

Sara said...

Hilary -- I love this post.I think it's so cool that the whole country does a bird count:~)

I am such a bird lover now. Believe it or not, I started my bird feeding when I got my cat. Wait a minute...she's an inside cat only. It's a requirement here for her adoption.

Anyhow, I worried about her getting to see the wild, so to speak. So, I set up my first bird feeder outside of my fully screened porch. She loves watching the birds fly to the feeder. Best of all, no one gets harmed:~)

Now I have three birdfeeders -- the one outside the porch, one outside my office and one outside my boyfriend's office. In addition, we've added the's getting kind of homey at my house for birds:~)

The most frequest birds I see are finches -- the common small finches and cardinals -- they are year round. I also get golden finches in the winter and occasionally blue jays, woodpeckers, titmouses and others that I can't name.

Thanks to my cat, I now throughly enjoy feeding and watching these little winged characters as they visit my feeders.

Great post!

Unknown said...

We love bird watching too! Thank you for the kind words you left me! I hope to see you around.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. I think we should rephrase that .. they have the opportunity to join in and a great many do so!

That’s interesting that if you have a cat .. you have to have bird feeders – what a good idea. How lucky you’ve got a fully screened porch and she and you presumably can watch the feeding frenzy .. and she can get glimpses of the great outdoors. As you say no-one gets harmed. Now you have three bird feeders – also the other two outside windows .. and the bird bath – poor birds no privacy at all! Do they get bubbles occasionally?.. heaven knows what the poor cat thinks!

Finches and cardinals – lovely colours – seems like you have some stand out birds .. no doubt the ones you can’t identify are the little brown jobs – as we used to call them in South Africa.

Great little family you’ve got .... cat calling the birds to feed – lovely picture of the birds, a couple of chairs and the cat curled up .. with the two of you peering out of the windows!

Thank you – great to see you here .. glad you enjoyed it ... Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Beth .. sounds like you've got your hands full .. but a little time out watching the birds with the kids, or briefly by yourself must be allowed.

Thanks for the kind comments .. glad to see you here .. and see you around definitely .. Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary, this is my favorite post of yours since I became a regular reader. I love birds, and this post reminded me of springtime, which is just around the corner. There is a park near my house that boasts a wide array of unusual birds, so seeing the pictures you posted here will help me to identify a few I'm likely to see but wouldn't know how to properly label.

The blackbird song you referenced makes me want to look it up on the Internet so I can hear the sweet melodies.

My best to you and your mother!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan ..thanks so much .. I've put the YouTube video onto the post - & it is a great video with fantastic song .. amazing.

Excellent if you can spot some of the birds .. that identification of birds is tricky to say the least .. I think there's a Dunnock in the video .. but there's definitely a spotted woodpecker, and a blue tit ..

So please have a listen .. and enjoy that melodic song .. and the orange beak against the black body .. - Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- I'm back again. Thanks for visiting my site and the post, Picture Story: Photo Playing.

I need to clarify something about the clues, especially the last one, which confused EVERYONE!

I should have said the place you live in isn't the object, but has the same name as the object. Sorry for the confusion and I hope this help:~)

Devon Ellington said...

What a terrific idea! We can't have bird feeders at the apartment complex in which I live -- not to mention that they slaughtered all the mature trees in the fall and destroyed the habitat that developed over 30 years.

But when I have a garden, I plan to have feeders and houses and all that and do my own survey! ;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. ok I see that! Good to see you again!

Ok - well I'm glad I'm not thick .. sometimes I worry!! I have to say - not sure I'm any the wiser .. I'll think - not sure that's a very good idea ...!! I'll be over to look! Cheers for now - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Devon .. great to see you here. The world we live in is a bit crazy - regulation wise .. and people don't think or understand a lot of the time .. they were probably chopped in case a branch fell ...???? As you say complete destruction of the habitat .. especially in New York City .. not good.

Me too- when I have a proper garden, trees, bushes and shrubs - I'll be making bird cakes .. and add to the survey - if I'm around in winter! I fancy escaping south somewhere!!

Thanks for coming over .. good to see you - Hilary