A recent report by the RSPB, BTO and the WWT found that a quarter of UK birds need urgent conservation efforts to ensure survival. How can we help? It all starts with you and a new hobby!
Bird watching is a weirdly addictive activity. Set up a bird feeder by your dining room window and suddenly you won’t be able to look away. For me, it has provided unexpected levels of entertainment and a peace of mind, knowing the wonderful environmental benefits it gives. The maxim “two birds, one stone” has never been more apt.
To get started, you’ll probably need something to entice the birds to your garden. Bird feeders and tables can be bought from your local garden centre, with different designs and feeds tailored to accommodate the needs of the various species residing in the UK. This provision of food will not only attract more birds to your garden, but can also help support avian populations.
Food can be scarce in winter months, so feeding birds can be vital in ensuring their successful survival and reproduction. Though during the summer months’ food sources are naturally more abundant, supplying feed can still prove invaluable for birds struggling to obtain enough for their young.
Now for the fun part: identification! My go-to site is the RSPB bird identifier. Simply input the bird’s features and it can provide suggestions of the species. A good way of keeping on track of which birds are visiting your garden is to create a visual record. At home, I’ve created a poster of the birds I’ve observed, to help my younger siblings name them. We also keep a chart, next to this, where our latest sightings are recorded.
Photography is also an enjoyable aspect of bird watching. I’m not a hugely accomplished shutterbug myself (particularly when using my low-quality phone camera) but it’s still delightful when I manage to get a good shot. Many of my photos are of blue tits, which nest in a box we put up on a tree in our garden.
Installing bird boxes is another easy way you can help support our flying friends. A box provides shelter and, most importantly, a safe place for a mother to raise her chicks, protected from predators and harsh environmental conditions. Bird boxes are especially instrumental in mitigating the loss of natural habitat resulting from human activity such as urban development and intensive farming practices, for example the removal of hedges. A simple box to help support national bird populations and increase the chances of species in decline!
One major highlight of my bird watching career came about on a walk in Cornwall. I spotted a large black bird out on the rocks in the sea, and noticed an older couple on a bench watching it through their binoculars. We sat and chatted about it’s possible identity – it turned out to be a cormorant!
An unusual looking bird in our family garden also provided an interesting episode. Initially, we believed it was a relative of the raven or crow family, however we soon realised its odd appearance was due to its loss of feathers. It was a balding blackbird, and subsequent to its identification we received many suggestions attempting to account for its condition. These included the resultant trauma caused by falling from its nest when young, simple ageing, mites, an infection or moulting after breeding. We are still uncertain of the cause.
Bird watching has slowly slipped into my online life too. I’ve joined my local bird watching group on Facebook, and have been keeping up to date with the latest conservation efforts. This can often involve public engagement, like the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. This is a yearly project which invites the public to submit information on the birds they’ve seen in their garden. It has led to large data-sets of information on bird trends across the country over the last forty years, and has helped the RSPB and conservationists monitor species that are thriving or struggling. You can learn more about what citizen science is and why you should take part, here.
Looking out for birds will prove an interesting hobby, allowing you to support the welfare of your local birds and wider UK conservation efforts too. So why not give it a try? I highly recommend it!
About the author: Amy Heather is a first-year BSc Medical Sciences student at the University of Exeter. She started birdwatching at her Grandparents house, and as you’re probably wondering, her favourite bird is the blue tit.