Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Big Garden Birdwatch – why take part?

My first thoughts are that it’s fun to do plus it’s a great garden record for year to year. The organisers, RSPB say:

“Bird populations are a great indicator of the health of the countryside. That's why it's so important to take part in surveys like the Big Garden Birdwatch to keep an eye on the ups and downs of the wildlife where we live.

All you need to do is spend an hour over the weekend of 25-26 January counting the birds in your garden. It's that simple!

The more people involved, the more we can learn. So, grab a cuppa and together we can all help to give nature a home.”
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Regular feeders of garden birds may say that bird numbers are low on this bird count and not a true reflection of birds visiting. The RSPB say that numbers average out and with 590,000 people taking part in 2013 counting a staggering 8.2 million birds you’ve got to agree. So my (likely to be) meagre count is absolutely worth sending in – yours too :-)

Apologies to regular blog visitors if I am repeating myself here, I’m trying not to. I do hope this post is picked up by people new to feeding birds (perhaps for the first time through taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch). I wholeheartedly recommend taking part in the Birdwatch. I have no doubt that it will bring a new appreciation and enjoyment of your garden. I can now say that with some gardenwatching experience here :-)

As always, I do hope more bird feeders and perhaps nest boxes go up (a good time of year to do this if you don’t have one) as a result of the high profile of this annual survey. I hope my enthusiastic garden chat about feeders and observations from my garden will help in some way too. For regular visitors, I hope you find my garden bird feeding layout interesting :-)


Despite having my own birdwatch stats since I began this gardenwatching blog that tell me I probably won’t see more than 22 birds visiting… I bought an inexpensive (£2.20) tally counter this week!

The large groups of Finches and House sparrows that are visiting just now have me looking in every direction as they fly from one feeder to another excitedly. If they all turn up during my count then that’s a bonus. Ever the optimistic ;-)

The mobile phone panoramic view of the feeders I’ll be watching this weekend can be seen below. They include, from left to right, hanging on the coral bark Acer tree: a clinger feeder with sunflower hearts and a cage feeder (for small birds) with fat cake inside.


Trees are great for hanging feeders up high keeping birds safe but not every garden has room for big trees. Straight ahead from my gardenwatching window view (shown below) is my usually very busy, homemade feeder tree. For this we used medium sized branch prunings from a garden Rowan tree bolted to a 8ft x 4in fence post which is in the ground using a metal post spike so as not to disturb the Bamboo roots close by.

This homemade feeder tree has been a great success and I would recommend it as an alternative to flimsy bought feeder hanging poles. I change around the feeding options here. At present (for my count) I’ve got 3x peanut feeders, 2x small 2 port niger seed feeders and 1x seed feeder with sunflower hearts. When it’s very cold I will add a second sunflower heart feeder and a basket fatcake feeder that caught the eye of the Great Spotted Woodpecker last January.

If you click on the image below to enlarge it you will be able to get a better idea of scale and location of my feeders which in turn show that by spreading the feeders around, with different foods and in different feeders, a wider range of bird species will find food and your garden will come alive!



Another very popular feeding spot is to the right of my tiny pond with running water (just outside my window). I have so enjoyed watching this close view of feeding birds over the years. Ground feeding trays attract Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Robins as well as Woodpigeons and Collared Doves, House Sparrows and Finches. For a few years now I have provided sunflower hearts here but add fruit like sultanas and apples during very cold spells with grated cheese and bread every now and again too. I’m always surprised to see Blackbirds running away with the bread when there is seed on offer.

Blackbirds and other thrushes will run away with chopped apple on the ground but if you cut it in half they will feed where it is allowing you to see them. I had fun with an apple feeding experiment back in November 2007 with apples on obelisks which was a great success and something else I would recommend. I've more to share on feeding fruit that I'll keep for another time - when I introduce my latest gardenwatching cam ;-)

My smallest garden feeder is a wooden window feeder (that proved too popular with Starlings noisily knocking it at my window). For a few years now, this tiny feeder has been secretly tucked in branches of my low domed Acer tree – just above the ground feeder you will see its pitched roof in my garden view. In summer months when this tree is in leaf I add mealworms for birds feeding young. In winter, this is not such a secret feeder and popular with many birds from the Finches and Sparrows to Blue tits, Blackbirds and even Woodpigeons!




Last, and by no means least, to the 3x bird tables in my garden. They are all popular just now. If I were to start feeding birds in another garden and could only put up two feeders I would always include a bird table as it feeds the widest variety of birds. Oh yes... and grey squirrels too on occasions too - not too sure that's a selling point ;-)

Location is the thing I feel is important with bird tables. Finding a position where you can see the birds feed and the birds can see the food to approach it, with cover to hide when predators like Sparrowhawks come chasing them is what I’d consider. An easy jump for a cat is another – I’ve tried to make that difficult in my garden using plants taking care not to give a cat a hiding place!


Birds queue/hide in shrubs, video 0:21 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.


A new peppermint painted bird table on the right of my garden view is out in the open, to three sides, standing tall at a feeding height of 134cm. This table shouts out… watch me! It’s new to my garden having arrived at the beginning of December. The video below shows that counting birds when a bird table is quiet needs a good eye at times.

As this post is getting a tad long, I’d like to review this bird table next time together with my bird count results. Although I get a good view from my gardenwatch window of this table, I get an even better one from my kitchen window as you can see in these zoomed in video grabs and in the next video. Preparing veggies and washing dishes is not dull at all now ;-)


3x House Sparrows, video 0:31 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.


Opposite my potting shed window is a partially hidden bird table we’ve had for almost 15 years now. It is made of hard wood which I stained a willow green colour a few years ago to match our camera nestbox. This bird table is in need of repair and as it has sentimental value I hope we can save it - maybe even add some new features at the same time?

If you look back at my garden panoramic you will see that there are branches over this bird table. I have a weeping pear in a large glazed pot here and the colour of the table blends in to the silver grey leaves of this tree which, being in a pot is behaving itself and not getting too big. The birds have a little protection from Sparrowhawks and cats with this tree canopy and at the same time I enjoy watching them perch and bounce through its branches en route to the table as I potter in my shed.

When counting, or just watching birds in your garden, look where birds like the Great, Blue and Coal tit take their fast food grabs. They often feed on branches high up on trees but they also stay close by a feeder and come back and forth to the same spot a few times. The clip above is very short but this Great tit took three visits with seed to this branch (one after the other) and the forth it flew away with.


Great tit feeds on branch, video 0:25 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.


My smallest bird table located in the foreground of my garden view (by cost, height and box size) was going to be flimsy – I knew that when I bought it. However, I had a very specific plan for this one bought a few years ago after some serious heavy snowfall that lasted months (not usual for us). I was looking for a winter bird table that would tuck out of the way during summer months. Below my small domed Acer tree next to a ground feeder was the perfect location and this has been another popular feeding spot working as a ground, rainy day feeder throughout the year too!

At approx. 18 ins off the ground (I shortened the main support) birds like Blackbirds that run around the ground looking for food when there is snow on the ground had a place they could go for food. As yet, this table hasn’t been properly put to the test (no such heavy prolonged snowfall since Dec 2009) but the Blackbirds and other birds are very aware where it is now so will find it if the snow levels become a problem again. In January 2013, I had fun making a another homemade snow shelter which was a great success - I saw yellowhammers for the first time with this one :-)

Finally, I’ve just remembered about another larger ground feeding tray that got good use during a seed trial I did before the Birdwatch last year. I tend not to use this ground feeder during the summer. At present it can just be seen on the ground below my homemade tree feeder, next to three informal path slabs - it too catches some of the debris from the feeder above. This feeder caught the attention of a Pheasant last January 26th - I wonder if it will return to be counted this year ;-)

Okay, that’s more than enough feeder chat. Its daylight here now and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has already begun in gardens with 303 results submitted already! If it’s sunny at lunchtime I might suggest not doing a count then as the birds like to catch the sun’s warmth high up on trees and don't come to the feeders. Mid morning to just before noon and mid afternoon around 3pm would be my suggestions for the most bird visitors :-)

Oh wait before you go…. this is especially for US blogger Lisa at Greenbow (hopefully you’ll catch this first thing in the morning – I think the time difference stopped you seeing the live cams last time) please do tune in online to see some live UK birds feeding.

BBC Winterwatch isn’t quite over yet. Over the weekend they will be bringing live action of the UK's garden birds with experts chatting from 8am (UK time) and on Red Button and Live cams online . Based at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall they will also be broadcasting live shows at 1pm and 4pm with the very popular Iolo Williams. Enjoy!

For those taking part with a birdcount – have fun, enjoy watching the birds in your garden and I hope you see many different species plus a few surprises :-)

Quick update: Oops I completely missed this info on this year’s Birdwatch … “For the first time in its 35-year history the Big Garden Birdwatch is also recording mammals and amphibians.” Yep, they want to hear about sightings of birds and garden visitors such as deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads too :-D


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2014.

5 comments:

Sue Garrett said...

As usual the birds are thinner on the ground @and in the air' today. I think the birds are disloyal and go to the feeders of those who make a special effort for bird count. They know our food supply will be there later!

Angie said...

I'll be doing my bit tomorrow afternoon. Saturday is my day for cleaning out and replenish all the feeders.
Last year was the first time I took part and stupidly didn't keep my own record, doh! I've no goldfinches or linnets visiting this year :(

SeagullSuzie said...

I'll be joining in, but so far the weather is terrible and very windy which keeps most of them away-It's supposed to ease later this afternoon so I will be ready.

Anna said...

A most informative post Shirl. I counted yesterday and recorded fewer birds than in previous years. Some of the usual suspects stayed away although they are still visiting the garden regularly. We have an ongoing battle on our hands to squirrel proof food we put out for the birds. Any suggestions would be welcome :)

Shirley said...

Hello everyone, thanks for all your comments. I appreciate this was a bit of a long read :-)

Sue, yep, I agree with you there :-)

Angie, I’ll have to check your blog to see your results (if you posted them). Good to mention the regular cleaning of bird feeders here too. Aw, shame about last year’s record – if you blog you will have them that way :-) Ah… yes with not having cold temps just now we are missing seeing out in our seasonal visitors. We get goldfinches most of the year (not for my count either this time), Linnets we have never seen but we did get Redpolls last year – I’m missing the Bramblings just now. If we get snow all will change at the feeders.

Suzie, aw that’s a shame you didn’t expect many birds in the rain and wind (I must check your blog now). Our feeders are always busy when it rains.

Anna, thanks – sometimes I get carried away and have difficulty in leaving stuff out – which I actually do! Aw… that’s a shame your count was down again. Re the squirrels, I might be tempted to suggest that you try giving them their own feeder! I’ve heard that as a solution on more than a few occasions. I suspect that’s not what you thought I might say :-0 Good luck :-)