Celebrating 40 years of counting wildlife with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch

  • The RSPB is celebrating 40 years of its famous Big Garden Birdwatch.
  • Over 8 million hours have been spent watching garden birds since the Birdwatch began in 1979, with more than 130 million birds counted.
  • Taking part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey takes just one hour and provides the RSPB with an annual snapshot of how our wildlife is faring.
  • To mark the event, the RSPB is asking participants: ‘How will you #BigGardenBirdWatch?’


Nature lovers across Scotland are being urged to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch between January 26-28, as the survey celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Just one hour every year for the last 40 years has made the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch the largest garden wildlife citizen science project. Hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part, donating over 8 million hours of their time monitoring garden birds since the Birdwatch began in 1979.

This year’s event takes place on 26, 27 and 28 January 2019, and as usual, the public is being asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB.

In 2018, more than 29,000 people across Scotland took part, counting an impressive 521,428 birds. Over the last 40 years, 130 million birds have been counted across the UK, giving the RSPB an astonishing insight into how our wildlife is faring.

To mark this year’s anniversary, the RSPB is encouraging participants to share their Big Garden Birdwatch stories on social media by answering the question: ‘How will you #BigGardenBirdWatch?’ This will showcase some of the best examples of how people take part, from building their own birdwatching den, baking birdseed cakes, and dressing up as Batman to see robin.

Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “Everyone has a role to play in saving nature and protecting our wildlife. Big Garden Birdwatch participants have made a significant contribution to monitoring garden bird numbers over the past four decades. Those taking part work together as part of a community with thousands of other Big Garden Birdwatchers to help the RSPB’s work to protect birds, other wildlife and the places they live.
“Reaching 40 years is a huge achievement and shows just how passionate people across the UK are about their wildlife.  The survey started as a winter activity for our youth members. It’s now the largest garden wildlife survey in the world and appeals to both children and adults because it’s an enjoyable, easy, inclusive activity that anyone can do and a great opportunity to connect with nature.”

For four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world. It was first to alert the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers. The song thrush was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979. By 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979, plummeting to 20th in the rankings. [note 1]

The survey has also shown the increases in collared dove and wood pigeon numbers and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers reported by participants since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 57% (1979 – 2018), in the most recent decade (2009-2018) numbers appear to have increased by 17%. [note 3]

Here’s how to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019:

  • Watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days.
  • Only count the birds that land, not those flying over.
  • Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

As well as counting birds, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year. This year, people are being asked to look out for badger, fox, grey squirrel, red squirrel, muntjac deer, roe deer, frog and toad. [note 3]

The parallel event, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term (2 January – 22 February). More than 60,000 schoolchildren spent an hour in nature counting birds in 2018. Further information can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch

To find out more about the Big Garden Birdwatch, register to take part, or submit your results, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch  

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