Back garden birds
Back garden birds
The last weekend in January saw thousands of people up and down the country, notebooks and pens at the ready, staring out at their back gardens: they were taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. This annual event, organized by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, invites anyone interested to spend an hour over that weekend in noting down the number of species, and the number of individuals in each species, visiting their garden in the course of an hour. The findings can then be sent in to the RSPB on a specially designed form either by post or on the RSPB website. The data collected give a useful snapshot of garden bird populations and, as more information is collected year by year, the scientific value of these records increases.
Some dedicated bird watchers travel the world or dash from one end of the UK to the other at the drop of a feather in order to add a species to their Life List. As you can imagine, this becomes increasingly harder as the list grows. My version of the addiction requires rather less in the way of energy and expense; I keep a Garden List. These last three weeks have brought the rare pleasure of a new addition: the cold stormy weather has brought in a small group of redpoll to join the siskins and goldfinches at the on nyger seed feeder. Classic seed-eaters, Redpoll are very agile and acrobatic and are more generally seen feeding in treetops where it’s difficult to make out their subtle colouring against the light. What a treat, then, to have a couple perched about ten feet from my dining room window. Their plumage is a warm brown colour with delicate curved wing-bars in a soft cream. The raspberry red patches on their heads flash as they rapidly duck to the feeder. At this range I can see the neat black bibs surrounded by pale buff. Later these two females were replaced by a more colourful male. His chest was suffused with a pink wash which will be even more vivid as spring comes. Luckily, the three birds put in an appearance as I was completing my hour’s watch so I was able, proudly, to add them to my return.
Since 1995, I have also been involved in the Garden BirdWatch scheme organized by the British Trust for Ornithology. This requires a weekly record of species and numbers to be kept and returns to be made quarterly. The scheme had already been in operation for several years when I joined and has collected masses of data about numbers, distribution and patterns of change, all valuable for research purposes. The decline of once common birds like the sparrow and starling is clearly charted. I have never seen a sparrow in my garden over the ten years I’ve lived here, and starlings, once the common bully-boys of the bird table, are now rare visitors. The song thrush, which suffered a serious decline, now seems to be gradually recovering. Meanwhile, I can enjoy my own small triumphs – like the redpolls and, one memorable August evening, when a woodcock appeared on our lawn!