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RSPB Begins It’s Annual Bird Count

Saturday, January 27th, 2007 at 14:30 by Eliza E. Lanyard

Feeling twitchy? Then you’re not alone, as bird watching is one of the most popular hobbies in Britain. So perhaps you could put your twitchiness to good use by looking out of the window and counting the number of birds you can spot. You see, this weekend the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are asking people to take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a way for them to track what is happening in the world bird-wise and what impact, if any, global warming is having.

Last year 470,000 people took part and counted 8 million birds in over a quarter of a million gardens - that’s an awful lot of birds and an awful lot of counting. Just as well I didn’t take part as I’m not very good at counting and not very good at bird spotting either.

Well, I’m good at spotting them - they’ve got wings, are feathery and they chirp, and to be fair certain ones I can differentiate easily - magpies, wood pigeons, robins, penguins - but for me, sadly, most of our small feathered friends fall into the wide category of “similar looking cute creatures that I like to leave food out for and don’t like to see cats eating”.

I can spot tits like John Reid easily but I’m unable to tell the difference between blue and coal tits without looking at a book and the tit standing still long enough for me to find the right page. Fortunately there are loads of people out there who are far better than me at this sort of thing and they have been doing sterling work since 1979 when the RSPB first asked people to do this.

Their counting has shown that bird populations are changing. The number of starlings seen has dropped by 72% and the number of house sparrows spotted has also fallen by over 50% - there used to be an average of 10 house sparrows per garden in 1979 and now it’s only 4.4, although it is has not been made clear if the .4 counted was a bit left behind by a cat who had had enough.

Its not all doom and gloom in the bird world though, as some species are on the increase - apparently there are more greenfinches and wrens in back gardens than ever before. It is hoped that when the results for this year are analysed they’ll give an insight into any changes brought about by the recent unseasonably mild weather. There might not be so many robins this time round, for example, as the weather has not yet been cold enough to trigger their migration from Europe, plus the exchange rate of euros to peanuts is not too good at the moment.

So get out there, count for an hour and let the RSPB know what you saw.

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