Get involved with birdwatching and help our native birds survive

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31 January 2016 11:22AM

Whether you are an admirer of the albatross or a fan of flamingos, this weekend bird lovers of Cumbria will be donning binoculars to check up on our local feathery friends.

 DROPPING IN Robins are one of the most popular of our garden visitors IMAGEFLOW/WWW.CITDIGITAL.COM

DROPPING IN Robins are one of the most popular of our garden visitors IMAGEFLOW/WWW.CITDIGITAL.COM

You could drop in at Grizedale Forest for their Big Garden Birdwatch on Saturday, or even fashion yourself a bird hide in your own garden.

Over half-a-million people are expected to join in this weekend as the the RSPB holds its Big Garden Birdwatch on January 30 and 31.

If you take part in south Cumbria you will be helping to provide conservation scientists with valuable data about the changes in the numbers of birds using our gardens in winter. The scientists need this information so they can help to protect our wildlife for future generations.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, an RSPB conservation scientist, said: “With so many people now taking part, the results we get from gardens are very valuable. As the format of the survey has always been the same, this data can be compared year-on-year.

 BATHTIME Leaving fresh water out for wild birds is essential LINDA MELLOR

BATHTIME Leaving fresh water out for wild birds is essential LINDA MELLOR

"The results help us to create an annual ‘snapshot’ of bird numbers across the UK. Combined with over 30 years’ worth of data, we can monitor trends and understand how the birds are doing.”

A survey pack can be downloaded from the RSPB website and then after that, all you need to do is sit back and get your ornithology head on.

The first survey was held in 1979 and it has helped to raise awareness of species that are in decline such as starlings and song thrushes. Their numbers have dropped by an alarming 80 and 70 per cent respectively since the Birdwatch began.

On the other hand the house sparrow, which we all recognise as the little bird which hops along our window sills in the morning, seems to have slowed in its long-term decline. The sparrow is still the most commonly spotted bird in our gardens even though its numbers have dropped by 58 per cent since 1979.

Last year more than 8.5 million birds were spotted in gardens across the country, but this year it is more important than ever that we get out birdwatching.

December 2015 was reported as the wettest and warmest December on record but since then, temperatures have varied between freezing and unseasonably mild. Data collected in the survey will help scientists to establish how they have fared in such challenging conditions and how best to help them.

Ben Andrew, RSPB wildlife adviser, said: “The milder weather means that there is more food available in the wider countryside, with birds being less reliant on garden feeders. However, winter is a hard time for our garden wildlife so it’s still vital that people keep their feeders stocked up with a variety of energy-rich food so birds can find food whatever the weather. Either way, mild or cold, it will be fascinating to see how the birds respond this weekend.”

For the third year running, the RSPB is also asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens throughout the year such as hedgehogs, foxes, stoats, squirrels and reptiles, to help build an overall picture of how important gardens are for giving nature a home. So this could be the perfect opportunity to educate your children on the variety of creatures that visit our gardens.

Dr John Wilkinson, from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, is enthusiastic about finding an even greater diversity of creatures in our gardens. He said: "It's great to see that the Big Garden Birdwatch is recording species such as grass snakes and slow-worms, whose habitats are declining in the wider countryside. If you're lucky, grass snakes may even use your compost heap for egg-laying."

The weekend is part of the RSPB’s Give Nature a Home campaign. The charity wants to tackle the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. It is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces. 

You can help your airborne neighbours and furry friends simply by putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond to support a number of different creatures or building a home for a hedgehog. 

The Big Garden Birdwatch could be your chance to introduce your children to wildlife conservation or awaken the birder in you!

The RSPB will be live blogging throughout the weekend and offering downloadable bird song on its website as a soundtrack for the Birdwatch. If you fancy a sweet treat while counting the birds, delicious new cake recipes from Frances Quinn, winner of the Great British Bake Off 2013, will also be available on our website. For more information, visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

If you get caught up in the excitement of birdwatching then you could become part of the community of birders. Serious birders sometimes compete in what they call The Big Year, an informal contest to see who can spot the highest number of bird species in one year. The record is presently held by Noah Strycker from Oregon, USA. Mr Strycker went on a worldwide birding trip and saw 6,042 species of birds.

Blackbird

The males live up to their name but, confusingly, females are brown often with spots and streaks on their breasts. The bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring make adult male blackbirds one of the most striking garden birds. One of the commonest UK birds, its mellow song is also a favourite.

Where to see them 

Found everywhere in gardens and countryside and from coasts to hills, although not on the highest peaks.

Blue tit

A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors. In winter, family flocks join up with other tits as they search for food. A garden with four or five blue tits at a feeder at any one time may be feeding 20 or more.

Where to see them 

Blue tits are common in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens. They're widespread and found across the whole of the UK with the exception of some Scottish islands.

Chaffinch

The chaffinch is the UK's second commonest breeding bird, and is arguably the most colourful of the UK's finches. Its patterned plumage helps it to blend in when feeding on the ground and it becomes most obvious when it flies, revealing a flash of white on the wings and white outer tail feathers. It does not feed openly on bird feeders - it prefers to hop about under the bird table or under the hedge. You'll usually hear chaffinches before you see them, with their loud song and varied calls.

Where to see them 

Around the UK in woodlands, hedgerows, fields, parks and gardens anywhere.

House sparrow

Noisy and gregarious, these cheerful exploiters of man's rubbish and wastefulness, have managed to colonise most of the world. The ultimate avian opportunist perhaps. Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations. Whilst the decline in England continues, Breeding Bird Survey data indicate recent population increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Where to see them 

Found from the centre of cities to the farmland of the countryside, it feeds and breeds near to people. Vanishing from the centre of many cities, but not uncommon in most towns and villages. It is absent from parts of the Scottish Highlands and is thinly distributed in most upland areas.

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