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Go birdwatching... How to start birdwatching

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So you’re thinking you’d like to be able to spot birds and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB in January, or other surveys run by wildlife conservation groups.  But where do you start?

I was very pleased to see that the National Trust has some tips for anyone who wants to start doing some bird watching, or improve their knowledge of our feathered friends. 

It points out that there are nearly 600 species of birds in the UK, from your resident migrant to seasonal visitors.

Most of us can identify birds such as the blackbird and robin – but can you tell your sparrow from your house martin, or your swift from your greenfinch?  

So here are a few steps you can take to boost your knowledge of bird species:

Step one:  Just have a go!

Read about the birds - you could start with those most commonly found by watchers in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch last year.  Get a description of them – the RSPB’s guide to British Birds is a good place to start (it's free).  

One for kids…

You could get the kids to draw a bird, describe it and then see if they can spot it.  Birds can be a great way to pass a long journey – each time you stop, see what the family can see the area where you park the car e.g. motorway stations.   Don’t forget that many National Trust properties are surprisingly close to motorways where kids and dog can run riot and let off steam.  (Check out whether you need to be a member first for the place you plan to stop at.)

And as a family, you could listen to bird song.   

Top Ten Birds in 2017 in the RSPB BIg Garden Birdwatch

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Wood pigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

The Big Garden Birdwatch has helpful info about what birdwatchers found in England, Scotland and Wales in 2017, and these results are also given by county so that you can start with the most popular birds in your own area. 

It also has a bird identifier so that you can work out which bird is which. 

Step Two - Get the birds to come to you!

The National Trust suggest you encourage birds to come to you…..  give them’ a welcome!  Remember that bread isn’t good for birds – give them seeds in the summer and nuts in the autumn.  You don't need to have a garden - you can just use a window feeder which sticks to your window.

Step three - Take a day trip to bird Hot Spots

The National Trust has a number of hot spot sights where you can go for bird spotting, as do the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts (there are 47 in the UK), the Woodland Trust, the WWT and many nature reserves near you.  (You may need to be a member of some of these, but this can be a great chance to go and discover more.  You may see birds you wouldn’t normally see and this can be a fantastic activity to do on holiday when you’re in a new area – see what you can find when you’re away.  So if you’re off on a family holiday, practice your bird watching in other areas where you might see different species J

Five activities the kids can do

  • Spot birds in the garden, from the window or in the car 
  • Draw different birds and write descriptions of them – all you need is a few pieces of paper and you could pin their drawings on the fridge or a wall
  • Put bird feed out for them (make sure they wash their hands very well with soap afterwards) – don’t use bread as it’s not good for birds.  See who then comes to visit!
  • Listen to bird song – can they identify one bird from another?
  • Have a go at 50 things to do before you’re 11 and three quarters….


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