Be one in a million by taking part in the RSPB's big garden birdwatch - Ian McNab

Our mission at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland is to save nature, but we can’t do it alone. We need the support of people from all over the country, which is why we’re working hard to help everyone discover the wonders of the natural world. Across everything we do, nothing better encapsulates this crossover between people and nature than the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Ian McNab, Communications Officer, RSPB Scotland
Ian McNab, Communications Officer, RSPB Scotland

This annual event is open to everybody across the UK and sees participants count birds in their garden (or other local greenspace) for one hour over a weekend in January, with the results helping to form a nationwide picture of the health of our bird populations. This year, Birdwatch will be running from January 28-30.

From its beginnings as a children’s-only event in 1979, Big Garden Birdwatch has grown into the world’s largest wildlife survey. In 2021, over 1.5 million birds were counted by almost 80,000 people throughout Scotland, while the UK as a whole saw more than one million participants recording over 17 million birds. To have so many people taking part again this year would be a fantastic result.

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As impressive as these numbers are, Big Garden Birdwatch is not just about engagement and having fun (although these are certainly crucial elements) as the results are also vital in our ongoing monitoring and conservation work. They help us paint a picture of which birds are doing well and which could use a helping hand. Even records of our most common garden birds, such as starlings or house sparrows, are incredibly useful, as some of these species have seen long-term declines going back decades.

Participants will need to register for the event ahead of time, which you can do by visiting rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or calling 0800 473 0251. After registering, we will provide you with lots of tips for your count and information on how to identify different birds, so don’t worry if you’re a complete birding beginner.

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But how exactly does one do Big Garden Birdwatch? In short – however you like. Simply find a nice spot such as a garden, local park or even just your window ledge, set aside an hour and count how many birds of each species land in your space in the allotted time. Other steps, such as preparing tea and biscuits, are optional but highly recommended. After that, simply send us your results by February 20 (February 15 for postal submissions) and our counters will get to work.

Once everything has been tallied, we will publish the findings and analyse how they compare to previous years. This is a great opportunity to see how your efforts have contributed to the bigger picture, and how results compare across different parts of the country. There’s always an air of excitement to see which species will top the tables. House sparrows have been number one in Scotland for the past few years, with starlings, chaffinches and blue tits battling it out below. Will 2022 be the year one of them finally knocks house sparrows off their perch?

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We are in a nature and climate emergency, with the two issues intrinsically linked, and as we saw during COP26 in Glasgow, joined up action from people across society is crucial in tackling these challenges. Never has this been more evident than on the Global Day of Action, when 100,000 people in Glasgow and many more across the world took to the streets and spoke up for nature and the climate.

It is now vital that we build on the momentum of COP26, and as an event which brings people together for nature, Big Garden Birdwatch is our opportunity to do just that. Join us, and be one in a million.

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Ian McNab, Communications Officer, RSPB Scotland

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