Will Our Birds Fret That it’s Been Mild and Wet

   01.24.12

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Over half a million people will be taking part in the world’s biggest wildlife survey this weekend, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (28-29 January).

This winter has seen temperatures go from mild, to freezing, and back again, with ice, snow, wind and rain thrown into the mix.

And after two cold winters before it, the wildlife charity is eager to find out what this year’s confusing weather will mean for our garden birds.

RSPB’s Sarah Houghton says; “The last few months have been anything but predictable so it will be interesting to see what kinds of birds people are seeing this weekend, and in what numbers.

“With plenty of natural food still about some of the usual suspects might be a bit elusive, but heavy rain and strong winds could send other surprises our way.

“And spring-like signs might even be inspiring early breeding activities. There’s already been lots of evidence of birds recce-ing potential nest sites so whatever the weather, it’ll be a busy time.”

The RSPB is asking everyone to take part by picking an hour this weekend to record the birds they see, and feed their results back.

And they are urging everyone to submit their results, even if the numbers of birds they see might seem a bit low.

Sarah Houghton says: “We want to know what you see whether it’s a hundred birds or two birds, regardless of whether this is typical for your garden.  We add up all the counts to work out the overall results.

“With over half a million people sending us their data this will help us build an important stocktake of what’s happening in gardens this year.  We can then compare these counts with others from previous years and note any changes.”

The mild and wet weather has meant a different atmosphere in UK gardens and calls to the RSPB’s wildlife enquiries team shows that it’s having an impact on wildlife too.

The wildlife charity usually gets calls during the autumn from people asking where the birds have gone, but this has carried for longer into the winter.

They haven’t been visiting because their food isn’t covered by frost and snow and there have been berries and insects available in the wider countryside.  Birds are always on the look out for sources of food and will turn to gardens as temperatures drop.

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch project manager, Sarah Houghton, adds: “The Big Garden Birdwatch is an important tool in spotting early trends in bird numbers.  Doing the survey in winter allows us to predict how birds are faring ahead of the breeding season.

“If spring is starting early this year, people could start to see some different activities, so it could be a really exciting Birdwatch with some surprising results.

“Birds that may start nesting early include blue tits, great tits and robins.  Don’t just watch your feeders; keep an eye on your nest boxes too.”

It doesn’t matter what type of garden or outside space you have, in the survey’s 33 year history, participants have watched birds in all sorts of alternative gardens.

This year, shopping centres and retail parks are offering their outdoor spaces for people to step up for nature and start counting, as well as care homes, hospital grounds, prisons and nurseries.

With so much interest in what the mild and wet weather is meaning for nature, this weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch is a great way to contribute to science and help work it all out.

RSPB wildlife advisor Val Osborne, says; “We are very mindful that a late cold snap could be a real shock for the birds but the food we all put out can make a real difference to see birds through the winter.”

The RSPB is reminding people to be prepared with good quality bird food and clean, hygienic feeding stations. February can be the harshest month of the year.

This is the time when birds should be getting well fed to get in shape for the breeding season.  Good energy supplies now give them the best chance of producing healthy young.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, says “We all know how dreary it can be at this time of year and with the economy in such bad shape, why don’t you cheer yourself up by doing Big Garden Birdwatch? Sit down with a cuppa and watch from your windows. You’re really going to enjoy the wonderful world of nature out there.”

To step up for nature and take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend of 28-29 January, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

Visit the RSPB website www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch for more information and to submit your results online.

Pre-registration is open until Friday and those pre-registering will get a 10% discount for bird food and feeders from the RSPB online shop.

A variety of bird care items including food and feeders are available from www.rspbshop.co.uk

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