DO you know your house sparrow from your chaffinch? Your woodpigeon from your feral pigeon?
Well it’s time to test out your bird-spotting skills as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch approaches.
Join thousands of people across Edinburgh next weekend who will be taking to their gardens, parks and local beauty spots to count and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.
To get twitchers in the mood for the main event – which last year saw 2400 Edinburgh residents and 47,000 people across Scotland take part – the Royal Botanic Garden is running a series of events this weekend.
Visitors to the Botanics will be encouraged to take note of the vast amount of bird species living there, with experts on hand to give both experienced and novice bird- watchers a helping hand.
Family-friendly activities will also take place across the weekend, including making bird food and face painting.
Max Coleman, science communicator at the Botanics, says: “We would like people to know that the Botanic Garden is a really great place to go and watch birds in the city.
“It’s one of the best places to see a whole range of common and more unusual birds. It’s a wonderful place for people who are interested in birdwatching to go to see them, and for people who are just starting out.
“We have woodpeckers, sparrowhawks, and a tawny owl seems to have taken up residence. The kingfisher is another unusual bird that the Garden provides a habitat for.
“Last year we carried out a study and found there to be 556 different species in a 24-hour period. Quite a high proportion were species that we didn’t even realise were there.”
Max shares his own tips for viewing some of the more unusual birds in the Botanics. “If you want to see the kingfisher, you need to go to the East Gate pond. It’s a very small and active bird which hunts along the Water of Leith but can be found at the pond. The sparrowhawks are more or less everywhere in the Garden. There are one or two nests and they are resident throughout the year.”
Last year, the Birdwatch study found the most common garden visitor in the Edinburgh area was the house sparrow, with an average of three spotted at any one time.
The Big Garden Birdwatch, launched in 1979, has provided RSPB Scotland with information about changes in numbers of garden birds in winter, and helped alert conservationists to any worrying declines. Last year, the survey revealed that sightings of one of the country’s most threatened garden regulars, the starling, fell by a further seven per cent. Numbers of house sparrows, also on the red list, dropped by almost eight per cent compared with 2012.
To take part in this year’s research, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time during next weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch recording the feathered friends visiting their gardens or local parks. And this year, for the first time, participants are being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens too.
RSPB Scotland wants to know whether people ever see deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs frogs and toads in their gardens, to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home.
Louise Smith, from RSPB Scotland, explains: “Every single person who takes part in the Big Garden Birdwatch is helping us learn about what is happening with our much-loved feathered friends. These are birds that really count on us. At this time of year in particular they come to our gardens for help – with food, water and shelter.
“People all across Scotland help give them a home by providing these things and the Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to check what impact their help is having. The situation has been dire for birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years, but by knowing the exact situation, we can help to put things right.”
n To find out how to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch or the Big Schools’ Birdwatch, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.