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Nuthatch on a branch

Big Garden Birdwatch  

Join more than half a million people for the 2017 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this January – and enjoy watching the birds in your garden

Nuthatch ©

January is one of the best months of the year to try bird watching. Bare branches on garden trees and shrubs mean birds are easy to spot, and cold, icy weather forces them into our gardens in search of food and shelter.


Many birds are instantly recognisable: blue tits, robins and blackbirds are frequent garden visitors and are familiar to us all. But if you're lucky, you may spot something a little more unusual. Colourful woodpeckers sometimes visit garden feeders, and fieldfares or redwings may be attracted to remaining fruits on apple trees. Siskins are lively finches with distinctive yellow and black plumage, and love nyjer seed. Or you may be fortunate enough to spot a tiny goldcrest or a firecrest – weighing in at just six and a half grams, these are the UK's smallest birds.

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch takes place each January – this year it's on the weekend of 28-30 January – and is a fun way for the whole family to take part in the world's largest wildlife survey and help Britain's birdlife. It's a great way to get started with bird watching, too, if you're new to the hobby.

Started in 1979 as a winter activity for RSPB junior members, the Big Garden Birdwatch was intended as a one-off event to find the nation's commonest birds.

Blue tit

But the survey was so successful and popular – around 34,000 people took part – that it's now an annual event, and has gone from strength to strength.


More than half a million people regularly take part – last year more than 519,000 people all over the UK counted an incredible 8,262,662 birds – and with more then 30 years worth of data collected it gives the RSPB the information it needs to monitor the UK's birds and see which species are thriving and which are under threat.


With this information the RSPB is able to tell us that, since 1979, more than half of the UK's house sparrows have been lost and starlings have suffered an 75 per cent decline.


Blue tits, meanwhile, have fared well, increasing in number by 20 per cent, and wood pigeons have seen a massive 800 per cent increase.


Statistics like these give the RSPB the opportunity to spot problems – and help to put them right.


Take part

It's easy to take part in the survey. Just spend one hour looking out for birds visiting your garden, and keep a record of all the birds you see. You can print off a counting sheet from the RSPB website to help you – and you'll also find instructions on how to submit your results.

Don't worry if you don't have a garden. You can spend an hour at your local park, or other green space – just note where you were when you send in your completed survey.


If you do choose to complete the survey in your garden, though, you'll have more success if you provide plenty of food – and a wide variety of different types of food – for at least a week before the survey begins. Once you start feeding the birds, do continue to feed them through the winter – they may come to rely on this food source for survival.

We've put together a mini guide of eight birds that you might see in your garden, including the food that is most likely to attract them. So get those bird feeders topped up and have your binoculars at the ready!


One of the UK's commonest birds, the chaffinch is a colourful finch with a rosy-pink chest. You'll often see it hopping around on the ground in search of crumbs, and it particularly enjoys seeds and insects.

House sparrow


The dunnock is a small, brown and grey bird that is often seen flitting about in shrubs and hedgerows. It eats worms and spiders, but will also hop around under bird feeders, gathering up fragments of seeds and peanuts.



Another ground-feeding bird, only the males, with their bright orange beaks, are actually black – the females are a dull brown. They enjoy worms, and can often be seen pecking at apples left on the tree – try putting apples out on the ground to encourage them to visit.


A tiny, beautiful, brightly-coloured finch that loves sunflower seed and nyjer seed. They'll also feed on the seed heads of teasels and thistles – or even dandelions – so don't cut these down if you want to see flocks of goldfinches in your garden.  


Looking like a small woodpecker, with a blue-grey back, chestnut tummy and distinctive black stripe across its eye, the nuthatch is not a common garden visitor, but may sometimes be seen on feeders full of peanuts or mixed seed.

House sparrow

Despite their decline in recent years, it is possible to see these noisy black, brown and grey birds almost anywhere, in city centres, parks, gardens or the countryside. Try putting out nutritious scraps such as cheese, bacon fat or pastry to attract them to your garden.

Long tailed tit

Usually seen in a small, noisy flock, the long tailed tit is easily recognised – its tail is longer than its body. They are quite acrobatic and will often hang upside down on feeders full of peanuts or fat balls.

Long tailed tit

Blackbird © Izzy Bunting

Chaffinch ©

Dunnock ©

Goldfinch © Izzy Bunting

Nuthatch ©

House sparrow ©

Robin © Ken Dykes

Blue tit © Izzy Bunting

Long tailed tit © Izzy Bunting


Create your own feeder

You'll need to put out plenty of feeders now if you want to attract lots of birds to your garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch. Here's an idea for a simple homemade bird feeder that can be made from things that you might otherwise throw away.

Source: Sainsbury's Bank Money Matters Blog


This small black crow with distinctive grey collar often travels around in groups. They can be very skittish – the slightest movement will scare them off, so keep very still if your want to observe their antics!

Jackdaw © Izzy Bunting

Bottle feeder infographic

Little Green Space January 2017