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A watching brief

PUBLISHED: 06:00 19 January 2015

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, feeding from a garden feeder

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, feeding from a garden feeder

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Fill up your feeders, station yourself at the kitchen window and have your binoculars at the ready, the Big Garden Birdwatch comes to Norfolk, as Rupert Masefield from the RSPB in Norwich reports.

The people of Norfolk will once again be peering out of their windows for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch over the weekend of January 24 and 25. Since the wildlife survey started in 1979, it has provided information about the changes in numbers of garden birds in winter, and helped to alert conservationists to those species in decline, like house sparrows, greenfinches and starlings.

More than 11,500 people took part the Big Garden Birdwatch in Norfolk in 2014, part of the half a million participants throughout the UK who make this the world’s biggest garden wildlife survey.

Results from our county showed that it was all change in gardens with blue tits moving back into the top three most seen birds after dropping down the league table in 2013. Blackbirds maintained the top spot for another year and starlings bucked the national trend by moving up two places to be the fourth most watched bird in Norfolk over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend. Goldfinches climbed a place in 2014, and perched at number seven while the robin crept back into the top 10, after dropping to 11 in 2013.

However, behind what seemed like positive trends for our birds in Norfolk the survey showed that there are significant long-term declines for some garden birds including starling and house sparrow. Numbers of starlings and song thrushes have dropped by an alarming 84 and 81pc respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979. Both species are on the UK “red list”, meaning they are of the highest conservation concern.

Scientists believe that the weather played a role in the ups and downs in 2014’s top 10 as many of our birds were recorded in lower numbers in gardens due to the mild conditions. Some species, such as blue tits, were likely to be more reliant on food provided in gardens than others, such as blackbirds, which could easily find their favoured foods like worms and insects in the countryside. Just 10 years ago, goldfinches were in 14th position nationally, but scientists believe that the increase in people providing food like nyjer seed and sunflower hearts in gardens, may have contributed to their rise in the rankings. Overall numbers of species such as blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings appeared to have dropped in our gardens, but in many cases this was not because these populations are in decline but because these species don’t need to come into our gardens during mild winters due to there being plenty of natural food available in the wider countryside.

Make 2015’s Big Garden Birdwatch the biggest ever

To take part, spend just one hour at any time over the Birdwatch weekend, January 24 and 25, noting the highest number of each bird seen in your gardens or local outside space. Submit your results to the RSPB before February 13, either online at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post.

This year, participants are also being asked to log the other wildlife they see in their gardens to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving nature a home. You don’t have to see and count these other species during the Big Garden Birdwatch hour, just fill in the form to tell the RSPB whether you see them regularly or in fact have ever seen them in your garden, at any time of year. The RSPB shares this information with conservation partners to enable them to understand more about the threats facing our wildlife, and to tailor advice on giving nature a home so that people can help their wild visitors thrive.

For advice on how to give nature a home where you live, see www.rspb.org.uk/homes

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