Take part in RSPB’s big garden birdwatch in South Ayrshire

House sparrow, Passer domesticus, female perched on feeder in garden. Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)
House sparrow, Passer domesticus, female perched on feeder in garden. Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)

Thousands of people across Scotland are expected to watch and count their garden birds this weekend for the 2017 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

The world’s largest garden wildlife survey, now in its 38th year, takes place on 28, 29 and 30 January 2017. Since it began it has provided valuable information about the wildlife using our gardens in winter.

In response to many requests over the years, and for the first time in its history, people will also be able to take part on the Monday, extending the Birdwatch to three days. It is hoped this will allow even more people to spend an hour counting the birds in their park or garden, adding to the snapshot of how they are doing.

In South Ayrshire in 2016, 687 took part with the House sparrow the most seen species, spotted in 72 per cent of gardens.

RSPB Scotland Media Officer Jenny Tweedie, said: “Settling down with a cup of tea and a notebook to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch is a fun, relaxing way to spend an hour. You never really know what you’re going to see. But whether you spot your garden regulars, or something more unusual, all survey results help us to understand how birds are doing right across the country.”

Last year’s results saw a boost in numbers for smaller birds thought to be linked to the milder weather in the months running up to the weekend of the survey.

The percentage of participants’ gardens in Scotland that were visited by a tiny long-tailed tit saw a massive 166% increase in last year’s survey. The 2016 results show that over a third of gardens of those taking part (34%) recorded a long-tailed tit, up from 12.9% in 2015. The average number of these birds seen visiting gardens also increased by 17.9% last year.

Other smaller gardens birds such as coal tits and great tits also saw a rise in sightings. Such small, insect-eating birds, like long- tailed tits, are particularly susceptible to the cold as the food they rely on is hard to come by in frosts and snow, so milder conditions were likely to have contributed to a higher survival rate.

They have also adapted to feeding on seeds and peanuts at bird tables or from hanging feeders. Since 2006 the average number of long-tailed tits seen in UK gardens has increased by 52%, while great tit numbers have gone up by 13% and coal tits by 9%.

House sparrows remained top of the results in Scotland last year, with chaffinches and starlings rounding off the top three.

As well as counting their feathered friends, RSPB Scotland is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens and green spaces such as: foxes, hedgehogs, slow worms, stoats, great crested newts and moles. Gardens or outdoor spaces are an invaluable resource for many species – they can provide a safe habitat and enough food and water to survive – which are likely to have a significant effect on their populations.

Last year’s survey showed that only 19 per cent of people see hedgehogs in their gardens at least once a month in Scotland, 14 percent fewer than in 2015.

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2017, watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour over the weekend. Only count the birds that land in your garden or local park, not those flying over. Tell us the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch is currently taking place during the first half of spring term until 17 February 2017. Further information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch