Celebrating 40 years of the Big Garden Birdwatch with RSPB

18 February 2019

Written by Jack Taylor, Corporate Partnerships Executive at the RSPB


The Big Garden Birdwatch is an annual survey by the RSPB, where around half a million people spend an hour in a garden or local green space, recording the wildlife they see. The survey has been running since 1979, when the RSPB joined forces with BBC’s Blue Peter and called on children to let us know what birds they saw in their garden.

Hundreds took up the call and, in those pre-digital days, dutifully posted in their findings. The early signs of success were there, with the RSPB team faced with an impressive 34 mail bags full of post to sort through.

With the survey celebrating 40 years and the results still being counted for 2019, it’s incredible to look back at what we’ve achieved together over 40 years:

  • This year, more people got involved than ever, with a record number of over 300,000 participation packs requested across the UK.
  • Over 8 million hours have been spent watching garden birds since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.
  • Over 130 million birds have been counted since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979.
  • In 2018 alone, a staggering 8 million birds were counted during the Big Garden Birdwatch.

The Big Garden Birdwatch isn’t all about numbers though. So much of what makes the Big Garden Birdwatch so special is the joy of taking part and your local experience. Staring out the window with a cuppa and a far-too-large slice of cake, on the lookout for the goldfinch that comes to your feeder every day. Or hearing the poetic call of a song thrush just out of sight.

These local experiences alert us to the state of nature across the UK. They evidence the growth of ring-necked parakeets in London and the south east, and the 263% increase in coal-tit numbers since 1979. And they notify us of the species that are struggling, like the song thrush which has declined by around 70% in the last 40 years.

With 40 years of results, the Birdwatch isn’t without its oddities and unusual visitors – including an American robin in Putney, a black-throated thrush on the Isle of Bute, and a common rosefinch in Yorkshire. In 2014, a yellow-rumped warbler, which usually spends winter in South America, turned up in a garden in Durham!

As you read this, our data scientists are hard at work processing the surveys we’ve already received, so that we can announce the results in a few weeks. The results announcement attracts national coverage, and half a million people will know how everyone else got on.

For the RSPB and our partner organisations, the data we collect gives us a crucial picture of how our garden birds and other wildlife are doing. For that, we’re grateful to everyone who has taken part since 1979, and to all of our partners like Ecotricity who support us in the Big Garden Birdwatch.

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