This weekend, the world's largest wildlife watch returns. Beth Markey, spokesman for the RSPB, tells us more.

From Saturday, January 25 to Monday, January 27, half a million people across the UK will take to their garden, local park or nature reserve to count the birds they see for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Last year, the small and sociable house sparrow took Dorset’s top spot, but will it hold its place this time around?

Now in its fourth decade, the Big Garden Birdwatch is critical in painting a picture of the health of the UK’s bird population. With food and shelter in short supply, birds flock to gardens, making winter the perfect time to monitor how species are faring.

In Dorset last year, starlings came in a close second behind house sparrows, followed by blue tits – three species with very different outlooks. Despite their abundance, starling populations have decreased by eighty per cent since the start of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Famed for their stunning aerial displays, it’s not fully known why starlings have suffered such a fate.

Almost the opposite is true of blue tits, whose numbers are flourishing – their prominence in the garden scene a clear reflection of the tenacity of this colourful little bird, which prospers where many species can’t. First recorded in Anglo Saxon times, there are now a whopping 19 to 42 million pairs of blue tits in the UK.

Woodpigeons and blackbirds were also lucky enough to make it into the top five and some participants even noted owls and ring-necked parakeets in their survey. Sightings of bullfinches in eight out of every 100 gardens in the west country was welcome news too.

Beth, from the south west branch of the RSPB, said: "The Big Garden Birdwatch is an enjoyable way to help protect our wildlife. You never know what’s going to land near you and that’s what makes it so interesting. So many people are pleasantly surprised when they count a woodpecker or kestrel in their survey.

“If you don’t have a garden, that’s fine too. You can head to your local park, nature reserve, woodland or field – the Big Garden Birdwatch is a fantastic chance to connect with nature, learn a little bit about the species you see in your garden and provide incredibly important data on the state of the environment.”

Since its inception in 1979, the Big Garden Birdwatch has shone a light on the health of nature, using long-term trends in bird populations to determine the causes, and solutions, to the decline of wildlife.

Over the years, the Big Garden Birdwatch has alerted the RSPB to the decline of the song thrush, a once prominent visitor to UK gardens, whose numbers have gone down by 75 per cent. The survey has also been key in identifying the significant rise of woodpigeons, great tits and goldfinches, as well as species like blackcap that are choosing to winter in the UK more and more on account of the warming climate.

Beth continues: "The landscape has changed dramatically since the Big Garden Birdwatch first began. We see totally different things now, and people are often surprised to hear that many species that repeatedly top the list are in trouble. In 1979 there was an average of 15 starlings per garden, now that is down to just three. That’s why we need as much accurate data as we can get.”

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

It's not too late to sign up! Whether you’re a bird nerd or a novice enthusiast, it’s really easy to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. You simply need an hour, a snack and a bit of patience.

Head to your chosen spot: whether its your garden, local woodland, park or nature reserve, be sure to find a space where you’ll be comfortable for the full hour.

Start recording: the same birds may land more than once, so avoid double counting by recording the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time. You can download a bird ID chart at

Send your results: you can submit your results online from Saturday, January 25 until Sunday, February 16.

For more information, head to

Attracting birds to your garden

Winter delivers very little in the way of high-energy food for wildlife, so offering up a sumptuous feast in your garden is like winning the jackpot for hungry birds and mammals. Birds in particular are creatures of habit and will become dependent on your food supply. A wasted visit means wasted energy - something that’s in short supply during cold snaps.

Offering a varied menu is key to attracting different species – robins enjoy fat balls and mealworms, whereas finches are happiest when tucking into sunflower seeds. Blackbirds prefer ground feeders, whilst tits enjoy hanging feeders. Be sure to leave out water too. Birds need this to bathe in as well as to drink. Check on it frequently during the colder months to ensure it doesn’t freeze. If your dish is big enough, floating a ping pong ball in it will also prevent it from icing over.

What’s on the menu?

Bird seed cakes

1. Make a small hole in the bottom of a yoghurt pot and thread string through it. Whilst doing this, heat some lard or suet up to room temp but don’t melt it.

2. Mix good quality bird seed, raisins, peanuts and grated cheese in a mixing bowl with lard, suet or vegetable fat.

3. Pour into yoghurt pot and leave in fridge for one hour to set

4. Hang your bird cakes from trees or your bird table. Watch for greenfinches, tits and possibly even great spotted woodpeckers.

Birdy kebab

1. Carefully thread apples, bread, hard cheese and raisins onto a piece of floral wire, leaving 8cm either end.

2. Bend the wire to form a circle, twisting the ends together.

3. Tie a loop of string on the wire circle and hang your scrumptious kebab in the garden for the birds to feast on.

The top 20 birds in the UK

House sparrow


Blue tit




Great tit




Collared dove

Long tailed tit



Feral pigeon

Carrion crow

Coal tit