#RSPB #BGBW 1: Give garden birds a go

Part 1 of a four part series celebrating the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2011.

‘The Birds Flew by’ Etching by Rachel Everitt

On Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th January, 500,000 people will make bird history. Will you join them and contribute to 30 years of scientific research all from the comfort of your own home? It’s time for the biggest bird survey of the year, the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

I’ll be doing it in a park for at Greener Leith at 2pm on Saturday 30th January. I’ll be using my phone to update my results on twitter by tweeting (along with the birds) from 2 – 3pm. If you want to follow my watch live on twitter click to follow @auntyemily. Why not take part at the same time and tweet your results to @greenerleith or post them up here on the blog? Let us know when and where you’re going to do it and include #BGBW in your tweets. If you don’t know your tits from your finches, now’s the time to learn. Register for a free pack from the RSPB – it includes a spotters guide.

You just need to record the birds you see in your garden or park for an hour (not including those flying over), there’s even a handy RSPB ID guide for recoding them.  

You don’t need to dress like this:

Most importantly you’re helping to monitor and protect our garden birds. The RSPB report we’ve lost more than half our house sparrows, and three-quarters of our starlings, we only know this because you clocked up an impressive 3 million hours of bird watching in the Big Garden Birdwatch

Not convinced, don’t like birds, don’t care? Well if that’s you I’m impressed you’re still reading. I think you should take part. Your results matter, you matter, no one else see the birds you will see in that 1 hour in your garden. You’re contributing to something big, live and real.


Here’s why I think you should give garden birds a go:

1) They sing

Our garden birds may not be colourful display of tropical rainforest splender but when they open their mouths, their pipes are full of plentiful tunes. Check out a Robin’s song here, or a Goldfinch it’s wonderful! Music is wonderful. There aren’t many other creatures in nature who are making it. But with birds, you can be the sole audience to a garden symphony. When you stop to look and listen… it’s hard not to smile. 

2) They fly (and they’re quite heavy)

Stating the obvious but it’s actually pretty impressive when you consider it. I can’t do it. Insects can but they’re much lighter and made from crispy bits. This is flesh, taking off, birds and bats, you have my utmost respect, I am in awe of you.

3) They have nice faces

I’m not talking gulls or crows, I’m talking out little garden cuties. The coal tit, the wren, the chaffinch. They’re expressive. You can tell when they’re angry or curious, it’s all in the face. I’ve chosen links with the best faces so do please click on the birds. Or check out the blue tit in the video below, fast forward to 40s or to 146s for the best ‘tit’ bits. 

4) They hop

You don’t often see a garden bird walking. They hop, I love it. They make the hop look easy. They tackle thin braches with ease. There’s only really the kangeroo, the frog and our garden birds who pull hopping off. Birds do it best. It’s an awesome way to travel. Ducks, we may love feeding you lets see you hop? Ostrich, yes you’re big bad ass bird, but where’s your hop?

5) Watching them is such a privilege

To have the time to stop and observe and be the sole witness to nature unfolding and interacting, unawhere of it’s audience, well that’s something special.

6) Well I always did (and so did you?)

David Attenborough said you shouldn’t ask a person when they first became interested in nature, no you should ask them when they stopped. All children are fascinated by the natural world. For various reasons, as we grow up, (and some more quickly then others) we loose interest (or hide it until an opportunity to blog presents itself). I like to think I had an average and healthy fascination that maybe lingered… slightly longer than usual.

At primary school I built a bird hide out of some old blankets and chairs and sat, very still, very expectant, very excited…..FOR 3 HOURS until a bird landed on the nuts. SNAP! I go a photo, exuberant exaltation. Only half an hour till they came back, SNAP! Snap, snap snap. Here is the evidence:

They really are from the blanket hide, and that’s my ‘I spy birds’ book too, 93 was a good year. I was the only 2nd Ambergate Guide to get the ‘Bird Watcher’ badge, oh yes, you had to identify 12 birds from their calls and even remember their Latin names (Geek I hear you cry). And that’s what they did cry. And so I stopped liking birds, or at least openly admitting it. But now I’m back, the child has returned and I’d like you to return too, or at least have a go, come on, you might even enjoy it and if not, it was only an hour? 

Will you join me?

Either at home, through the window of your work or at your local park? Earlier I said we’d lost three quarters of our starlings. They’re a bird we take forgranted, well at least I know I did. Then I  stopped and watched a starling. I recommend it. Sometimes there’s something of great beauty and wonder, right under your nose and you never stopped to look at it. Here’s a poem I wrote about it:


Finally, here’s what’s coming up in the next few days to wet your birdy whistle:

The RSPB BGBW 2: Birds, the universal unifier

I’m diversifying from garden birds in this post and hope, whatever you’re favourite story (think books, plays, films) there’ll be a Scottish bird story to match. If you like foreign films, we have a special guest form Europe. 

The RSPB BGBW 3: How birds open doors (on meeting celebrities)

Simon King, The Queen and world Gannet expert, Bryan Nelson are just some of the celebrities I’ve met because of my fondness for feathered friends.


The Big Garden Bird Watch part 4: Doing it in a park for Greener Leith

Here’s where I report on the watch and hope to include your tweets and stories, if you’ll join me? If you’re with me, please share this article (and the bird love). What are we waiting for? Lets get birding.

Written by Emily Dodd

  • Marianne Johnson

    This is so cool, I love your blogg; your writing is so beautiful, how you make a piece that could eaily just be factual so poetic and awe inspiring- you've made me want to make a blanket shelter to watch birds! xx

  • Emily Dodd

    Wow, thank you so much for your comment Marianne. I feel very encouraged (:
    Good luck with your bird watching and I hope you do make a blanket shelter. You need an old brown or green blanket with 2 holes, one to poke the camera through and one for your eyes. I used a stool at the front with the camera on it pointing at the bird feeders and a chair behind with its back to the stool and a person sized gap to sit in between. I put the blanket over the top and crawled in and out from under the chair. I didn't want it to change shape and scare them off, they need to get used to it. I knelt on a cushion, lined the camera up on the stool so it was still and then watched through the upper gap and pressed the button when they landed. Also the chair seat is then a handy shelf behind you for chocolate and other such essentials. But I was much smaller then so good luck with crawling in and out under the chair! (;

  • Anthea

    Emily you made birdwatching sound so exciting (and so it is) I loved the little bluetit, the wind was blowing his feathers on the top of his head in time to the music and what a cute little face he had. Not so sure I liked the secretary bird though! When I was a little girl my father used to know the birds by their songs, we used to go on picnics and he used to say things like "hark, I can hear a pheasant". Listening to you brought back a lot of memories. Your enthusiasm was so refreshing, birds are beautiful and watching them costs nothing!

  • Emily Dodd

    Anthea, what lovely memories – thank you for sharing them here and so glad you enjoyed the blog (: