Join RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend

25 January 2014 by GrrlScientist, posted in Birding, Birds, Conservation

SUMMARY: This is the best weekend of the new year because it's RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch!


Image courtesy of RSPB.

This weekend is very important because it's the the annual Big Garden Birdwatch project. This is a fun little project where thousands of citizen scientists -- YOU!! -- throughout the UK count all the different species of birds that pop up in your garden and then report your results to the RSPB.

It is difficult to understand the myriad ways that an ever-expanding human population impacts wild places and their residents unless we actually count them in a regular and systematic way. Such counts make it possible to capture a snapshot in time of what is happening to these animals' populations so we can be alerted to problems before they become disasters.

Like canaries in coal mines, wild birds are sentinel species -- easily visible to us, yet exposed to and suffering from the same sorts of damages and insults that affect other, less visible, wildlife. For example, in the 2013 Great Garden Birdwatch, common starlings hit an all time low as their numbers declined 16 percent from 2012. House sparrows, which are already of high conservation concern, dropped by 17 per cent in gardens compared to 2012, while numbers of bullfinches and dunnocks were down by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. Whether such changes in populations are occurring can only be guessed at -- unless there is a regular and systematic count throughout the country.

By monitoring our wild birds, we can track our effects upon their populations and make valuable inferences about what may be happening to other wild creatures, too. Scientists then follow up these inferences with studies and experiments to learn more about the natural world, so hopefully, we all can make necessary adjustments to protect our precious wildlife.

"The key thing for the RSPB is that, even if you feel you don't have as many birds in your garden as normal, we still need your results. We will be able to compare these with other milder winters and track regional trends, so even if you don't see many birds, it's still really useful information", said Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, in a press release.

"The more people that take part, the greater our understanding of the threats and the solutions will be."

[Video link]

Additionally, and for the first time in over 30 years, participants are being asked to report the nonavian wildlife that pops up in your gardens too. The RSPB wants to know whether and where people are seeing deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs or toads. You are not being asked to count these other animals, just to let RSPB know if you've ever seen any of them in your garden at any time this past year.

This expanded focus ties in with the RSPB's "Giving Nature A Home" campaign, where more householders than ever are learning how important gardens are for Britain's wild creatures and how to provide wild animals with suitable homes.

This weekend, join more than half a million of your fellow citizens as they watch their garden birds (and other animals) for the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch. You can report your birdwatch data here (you must have cookies enabled).

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NOTE: this piece is slightly edited from the original, which was written by GrrlScientist and published by the Guardian.

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Grrlscientist can also be found on on her eponymous Guardian blog, and she sometimes lurks on social media; facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Expatacular!, Pinterest. She's quite active on twitter: @GrrlScientist

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