Public Domain

Project of the Week #17: the Big Garden Birdwatch

I've been taking a break from Project of the Week this month because I've been a bit busy with our course, which I've been really enjoying so far (by the way, if you haven't signed up yet, you still can - it's free, you can do it at your own pace, lectures are available both as videos and transcripts and you are not obliged to hand any work in!).

But there's time for a very quick one today on a very large, long-standing event taking place across the UK: the Big Garden Birdwatch.

What does this project do?
It's building up a giant, yearly database of what species of birds come to people's gardens every January, operated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). As it's been operating since 1979 and it's been very popular - half a million people do it nowadays - this gets us an excellent snapshot of bird populations which will tell us about any trends and changes.

What do I have to do?
Today (Saturday 27th January), or tomorrow, or Monday - just sit in or within sight of your garden for an hour and make a note of any birds you see. (There is a page to help you identify birds here.)

When you're done, you can fill in the results here. Or if you prefer to write, you can print off and fill in this form, or choose one of these and post to Freepost RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH by 13th February.

They recommend you download a Big Garden Birdwatch Information Pack, which is full of helpful information about the event, garden birds and how to take part. (You will have to fill in a bit of information about yourself to download it, but it's free. They invite you to join the RSPB as part of the process, but you can skip this part if you wish.)

Where can I find out more?
The Big Garden Birdwatch website
Their "Everything you need to know about...." page

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is a regular Monday feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details:
The Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979 as a suggested children's winter activity. Children have been encouraged to be part of the RSPB (I remember joining when I was very young - I especially loved barn owls - and getting a nice thank you letter). But then the editor of Blue Peter, a very popular children's TV show here in the UK, loved the idea and began promoting it.

Once they've got your data in, they wait three weeks to give everyone time to put their data online or in the post, and then it gets entered and checked for various types of inaccuracies (bird type, location, number....). Then a geographical picture of the UK is slowly built up. Which species seem to be doing better and which worse? They inform the media, who publish a lot of stories like this one. Sadly, some of our formerly very common species of birds, such as sparrows and starlings, have been declining for some time. There seem to be several causes of this, but the RSPB is conducting some in-depth studies.

This yearly event started long before we regularly began using the term "citizen science". It can't tell us precise numbers of birds, of course: birds visit different places at different times. But the sheer number of people involved can help us make some good estimates, and definitely tell us of any changes!

Have a lovely weekend.