RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2017: what we saw!

I was too busy watching, writing and IDing birds to take any photos during our birdwatch!

Today me and the boyfriend took part in RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch that is happening this weekend, and it was a surprisingly eventful hour! I was really excited to take part this year now that we have a good sized back garden with grass, variety of deciduous and evergreen trees and hedges. I’ve also set up a stand in our front garden by our living room window that holds 3 bird feeders and a couple of dishes which is very popular with the locals.

We were going to do the hour of bird watching later in the day, but whilst making breakfast I spotted, much to my excitement, a song thrush. I was keen to include it in our results so we started then. Here’s the list of everything we saw:

  • 1 song thrush
  • 5 blackbirds (3 male, 2 female)
  • 6 house sparrows
  • 2 woodpigeons
  • 1 carrion crow
  • 1 common tern (it flew over)
  • 6 starlings
  • 1 jackdaw
  • 1 dunnock
  • 1 robin
  • 2 herring gulls (if my ID was right!)
  • 6 quail (ok I’m not being serious now, they are our pets!)

Graph from RSPB showing a breakdown of the bird species we saw

I’ve never seen a song thrush in our garden before, so that was definitely the highlight! I thought I’d seen evidence of their presence with a few snail shells on our paving stones,  but it was brilliant to have it confirmed especially as it’s one the most declining garden bird species. Sadly, I think I went a couple of years without seeing any whilst at university. We have a resident house sparrow family of about 6 or 7, as well as a resident robin and dunnock (possibly 2, only seen a couple together once). So I was very happy they all made an appearance during the hour. Previously I’d only seen one blackbird pair hanging around our garden so to see 5 altogether was lovely. There’s a lot of starlings living in our cul-de-sac so I wasn’t surprised that some of those turned up on neighbouring roofs and one on the feeder. They really love the bird cake we have placed in one of the stand’s dishes. The boyfriend was very happy to see a jackdaw, he used to have one as a pet that he rescued a few years ago.

Seeing birds in our garden has become quite a significant part of our lives as there’s nearly always a member (or 2 or 3) of the sparrow family on the feeder outside our window or a robin or dunnock flitting around the back garden. However, actually sitting down properly to watch them and record them was an entirely different experience. We saw little dramas unfold. I’d put out a pile of bird seed to help tempt the birds out. One of the male blackbirds soon took charge of this pile. A few sparrows dared to share , he did not like that and chased them away. The dunnock was quick and sneaky, it would grab a seed and fly off then sneak back again. The robin put on the best show, however. He would hop a few steps closer whenever the blackbird looked away and then freeze nonchalantly whenever the blackbird looked back. It really was quite comical. The robin eventually grabbed a mouthful. For me, it was reminiscent of predators fighting over a carcass on some African nature documentary.

Just in that hour we began to notice little details about the individual birds. A little female sparrow struggled to eat a sunflower seed. She sat squeezing it and rotating it with her beak for quite a few minutes trying to crack it open. She flew off with it before we could see if she succeeded. A male sparrow hung sideways off a feeder and shoved his head right through the bars to get at the lowest fat ball. The blackbird guarding the seed pile held his wings slightly lower than the others away from his body. We weren’t sure if this was a certain behaviour or he had something slightly wrong with them.  I was also thrilled to see a fat blackbird and the robin, at different times, using my bird bath. Most of the birds stopped to investigate the clearly very interesting disturbed patched of soil on our lawn (from the time some mysterious beast attempted to dig under under our pen to get at the quail). Stopping to really see and appreciate the nature around you really can be quite eye-opening and magical. I will never get over the remarkable intelligence and character of birds.

Annoyingly, much later in the day we did see around 20 house sparrows in our garden, it was mad! So we couldn’t add that to our results. A large quarrel of house sparrows. They are such hyperactive entertaining little birds. We do have really great habitat for garden birds. We’ve also scared all the cats away (with nerf guns, no animal cruelty here) so it’s very safe for them. I wish we had a little more variety though, I’ve only ever seen one blue tit on our feeder. I get very excited when I go home to my parents as out in the country as they see everything on their feeders; all sparrows, woodpeckers, finches, tits, yellowhammers to name a few. Nothing can beat the big garden birdwatch I did at home a few years ago where I saw both a red kite and a buzzard within the allotted hour!

If you haven’t already this weekend, do get involved tomorrow and help out this wonderful project. All you need to do is watch for birds for an hour to help with the nationwide citizen science project. It doesn’t have to be in your garden if you don’t have one, or it’s not bird friendly. Head to your local park or anywhere outdoors. Submit your results here.

If you have taken part, did you see any interesting birds or entertaining behaviour? I’d love to hear about your own garden birdwatches!

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