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The Big Garden Birdwatch: The essentials you need to take part

The Big Garden Birdwatch: The essentials you need to take part
It’s RSPB’s bird watch 2022, here’s how to attract birds into your garden and the essentials you need to take part, including binoculars and books from Amazon

The Big Garden Birdwatch is back from 28 to 30 January, and everyone’s invited to take part.

Each year, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – a wildlife conservation charity – hosts the Big Garden Birdwatch, the UK’s largest garden-based citizen project, asking you to record the birds that you see in your outdoor space.

According to the charity, over the past 42 years of the event, 144 million birds have been counted, providing essential insight into how our wildlife is faring and helping it create a snapshot of the number of birds across the UK.

This year, the event is particularly important considering that 40 per cent of the world’s bird species are in decline, and one in eight are threatened with global extinction. The results from last year’s event showed that the decline in key species is continuing in the UK, too.

Birds are an intricate component of key ecosystems, so the data gathered during the Big Garden Birdwatch means the RSPB will be able to better understand how populations are changing, which helps to inform any conservation efforts.

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Fortunately, birdwatching can be beneficial for people, too. It gives “an opportunity to connect with nature, something that is increasingly being shown to benefit both mental and physical wellbeing”, says Robert Jacques, supporter development officer at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

To take part in this year’s event, simply choose any hour between 28 and 30 January and count the birds you see land – ignore ones in flight, and try to avoid double-counting. Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time, not a running total. Then, submit your results online on the RSPB birdwatch page.

To help you on your quest, we spoke to the experts about everything you need to succeed at spotting birds. From an essential pair of binoculars, to how best to entice feathered friends into your garden. Prepare to release your inner ornithologist.

Birdwatching essentials

If you’re new to birdwatching, there’s some useful equipment you can invest in to make the experience a little easier. For many, binoculars are an obvious starting point, and the BTO’s Robert Jacques suggests paying attention to certain specifications.

“The most popular sizes for birdwatching are 8×30 and 10×40, where the first number is the magnification and the second the size of the objective lens,” he says.

If most of your birdwatching is in your garden, then Jacques says that the former magnification is sufficient. However, if you are on reservoirs, estuaries and places where birds are going to be a little more distant, go for 10x magnification. 

In our review of the best binoculars, the Hawke mature trek 8×32 (£139, Amazon.co.uk) took the top spot thanks to them giving a “good, clear field of view”.

“For the price, the image quality, colour and sharpness is impressive and the British manufacturer has hit a sweet spot when it comes to weight, as they’re not so heavy as to cause arm ache and not so light that they can’t be held still,” noted our writer.

For something a little more pocket-friendly, the Olympus RC II 8×21 (£49.99, Argos.co.uk) similarly received rave reviews. 

“A pocket-sized pair that’s very reasonably priced, has a good field of view and a clear image,” said our writer. During testing, they also found them to be both “compact and lightweight”.

Another beneficial bit of kit is a book. Jacques recommends that for those starting to birdwatch in their gardens, Garden Birds and other Wildlife by Kate Risely and Clare Simm (£14.99, British-trust-for-ornithology.com) is a fantastic resource. 

It’s not only a great tool because it teaches you to identify the birds that are likely to appear on your lawn, but also because you can learn about their behaviour and when you might expect to encounter them, says Jacques. 

For those that venture further into the countryside, Jacques recommends the Collins BTO Guide to British Birds by Paul Sterry and Paul Stancliffe (£9.99, Amazon.co.uk).

It also has details of more unusual species and is illustrated with quality photographs. 

“Fortunately, one of the most useful tools for birdwatching is already in nearly everyone’s pockets; a mobile phone. Being able to record a piece of bird song can make research later much easier,” noted Jacques.

He added that “there are numerous apps to help with identification, although the quality varies a lot”, but recommends the BirdTrack app, which is available to download on iOS and Android

Jacques adds that it is “a great tool for keeping a log of your sightings in the field. There are also adapters available to help take photos through binoculars and telescopes.” 

How to attract birds into your garden

Out of the top 20 birds, 16 of them may have declined since the last Birdwatch, but there are still a number of tactics you can use to coax wildlife into your yard.

“One of the simplest ways is to leave some parts of your garden to grow wild. This will create nesting opportunities for birds which like dense vegetation, and homes for insects, which most garden birds need to nourish chicks,” he advises. 

Read more: 9 best gardening gifts for the green-fingered person in your life

Jacques recommends fruiting trees and bushes, along with large seedheads, such as teasels, which act as a great resource for birds in the winter. 

If you’re unsure which plants to choose, we’d recommend this featherbom seedbomb (£4.50, Kabloom.co.uk), which contains a wildflower seed mix, including teasels. 

Simply shake, pull the pin and throw or drop the seedbom onto bare soil, where there is plenty of natural light. Either plant in spring for flowering in the same year, or autumn for the following year. 

Jacques also suggests adding a simple birdbath to your garden – we’d opt for this Petface honeysuckle ceramic bird bath (£24.99, Amazon.co.uk) since it provides plenty of room for all of your garden visitors to drink up.

Its sturdy tripod and low height mean it’s unlikely to tip over, and you may even want to place some stones in it to give small birds and butterflies a resting place. “Just be sure to clean it and top it up regularly with cool, fresh water,” notes Jacques. 

Another way to attract birds to your garden is with a nest box, and there are a plethora of designs out there, appealing to different species. Most birds are territorial, however, meaning you can only fit a couple in a garden.

To get the most bang for your buck, Jacques recommends a house sparrow terrace, and we love this Ernest Charles sparrow house (£24.43, Amazon.co.uk), which provides a great way to see multiple nests together.

“House sparrows like to nest communally and by providing a nest box, you will help to benefit one of our urban species in the greatest decline,” he adds.

If you’re looking for an even easier solution, RSPB nature gardening expert Adrian Thomas says that “the simplest way to attract more birds to your garden is by providing them with supplementary food and a source of water”.

If you’re unsure which food to opt for, we’d suggest this Extra Select seed mix (£6.98, Amazon.co.uk) in an iBorn bird feeder (£12.99, Amazon.co.uk).

“Putting out bird food, such as sunflower hearts, peanuts, nyjer seed and fatty nibbles in hanging feeders is an almost certain way to draw in a wide range of species into your garden,” says Thomas.

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