Pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

Next weekend, January 26 and 27, the RSPB is having its annual Big Garden Birdwatch event. This week we find out what it is, why it’s of value and how you can take part.

The event started more 
than 30 years ago as a winter activity for the junior RSPB members. It was taken on by Blue Peter so, instead of the few hundred children expected to get involved, in excess of 34,000 did!

From 2001, adults were allowed to join in with the fun too, and now regularly more than half a million people do so. Although it started as a bit of fun, the fact that the survey’s format has remained the same means the information collected is comparable year on year so scientists have been able to use it to monitor trends, see how individual birds are faring and compare different areas of the UK.

For example, since the start of the event in 1979, blue tits and wood pigeons have increased by 20% and an enormous 800% respectively.

By contrast, other birds have declined – robins by 32%, house sparrows by 66% and starlings by a huge 80%.

By highlighting problems it allows organisations such as the RSPB to try to find ways to remedy the situation before it’s too late.

So, how do you get involved? First, it’s just a case of watching the birds in your own garden or a local park for one hour during the weekend in question.

Secondly, record the highest number of a particular species of bird you see at one time. This is to prevent you recording the same bird dashing in and out of sight 30 times.

Only count the birds that actually land in the garden, not those flying over.

Lastly, inform the RSPB of your results by registering online at www.rspb.org.uk. The form will remain open until February 15 to get the information in to them.

The website has additional information about the survey and also some really useful advice and pictures for identifying common garden birds. They even have an online bird identifier where you answer a few questions about your bird and it comes up with suggestions.

For the day itself, you can download a free counting sheet with helpful pictures on it ready for speedy recording. If you are taking part with children, there is a whole section on family fun to help keep them entertained. Those of you with little ones will know an hour can be a long time, especially if the birds are being reclusive.

To help keep them enthusiastic, you can download sheets to help you make starling finger puppets (you can print off a whole flock), bird masks or just colouring sheets. There are also online games and instructions on how to make bird feeders by recycling your rubbish and also how to make special bird cake.

So, with or without children, why not take a break for an hour next weekend and appreciate the wildlife in your garden while helping to collate some valuable information at the same time.