Keep your eye out for the Big Garden Birdwatch

It will be all eyes to the skies on 25 and 26 January for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch and the charity is urging people in Ballymena and Antrim to set aside just one hour to participate in this fun, free and important activity.

Last year almost 600,000 people across the UK counted the birds in their patch, including more than 10,000 in Northern Ireland, and the biggest garden wildlife survey in the world revealed some worrying trends.

Some of our most threatened and best-loved bird species continued to decline, with the number of starlings, a red-listed species of the highest conservation concern, plummeting to an all-time low.

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Numbers of house sparrows dropped by 17 per cent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst bullfinches and dunnocks, both amber-listed, fell by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

Despite this, the top three sightings for County Antrim were house sparrow, starling and chaffinch – which shows how important local gardens are for threatened species.

Big Garden Birdwatch, which has been running for a staggering 36 years, provides the RSPB with lots of information about changes in numbers of garden birds in winter and helps to alert conservationists to significant declines in UK garden species.

This year, for the first time, participants are also being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens – from squirrels to badgers, hedgehogs to frogs - to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of animals a home.

Participants don’t have to count these non-avian species over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, just tell the RSPB if they have ever seen them in their gardens.

To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time during Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local outside space at any one time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post.

Amy Ryan from RSPB Northern Ireland commented: “Since the launch of our Giving Nature a Home campaign this summer, thousands of local people have been doing their bit for birds and wildlife in their gardens, schools and local green spaces.

“Big Garden Birdwatch is a great way to reap the rewards of this work by seeing which creatures are finding a refuge there over the winter.

“Every single person who takes part in the Big Garden Birdwatch is helping us learn about what is happening with our much-loved feathered friends.

“The situation has been dire for birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years, but by knowing the exact situation, we can help to put things right.”