THEY are a vital part of the natural world that too often are overlooked or unappreciated – and now everyone in the Capital is being asked to get out and get bird spotting.
As part of a bid to try to get a clear idea of the number and species of wild birds nesting in gardens and homes across the UK, the RSPB is once again calling on people to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.
Thousands of people have already signed up to take part in the annual event, which this year will also ask people to record other species of animal to create a clear picture of how our natural world is coping with the changing climate and the changing geography around the Lothians.
In recent years, the count has shown a decline in the populations of many of our much-loved garden birds, and the results collected by the Birdwatch help determine whether that is continuing.
RSPB Scotland is particularly interested in the impact that the warmest year on record in 2014 and the mild winter may have on the birds people count.
Although colder weather has moved in over the last few days, the overall warmer temperatures could mean that people see fewer birds in their gardens this year as they’ve been able to feed from wild berries and insects for longer into the winter.
Last year, almost 40,000 people in Scotland spent an hour watching their gardens or local parks to record the birds they saw, including 2740 in Edinburgh.
House sparrows held on to the top spot as the most counted bird in 2014 and were also the most counted bird in the Capital.
The Birdwatch started as an activity for junior RSPB members in 1979, but has since grown to include as many people as the charity can encourage to sign up.
Following on from the introduction of other wildlife to the annual count last year, RSPB Scotland also wants to know about badgers, snakes, deer, squirrels, hedgehogs, and slow worms people see in their local area. Although some of these species will not be out and about during January, the charity is interested in sightings of these species in gardens at any time of the year.
Keith Morton, species policy officer for RSPB Scotland, says: “We’ve had some exceptionally mild weather over the past year and this could have a real impact on the birds and wildlife that we see in our gardens and green spaces this winter.
“Thanks to the warmer weather lasting longer into winter, birds may well have a ready supply of insects and berries far longer than usual and so make less use of the bird feeders and food that many of us put out for them. If your area is still experiencing this milder weather you might find you count fewer birds than previous years during your Birdwatch hour this year, or that some of the migrant birds are missing. However, the recent cold snap means that local birds now really need your help with getting food, water and shelter.
“We’d like as many people as possible across the country to take part so that together we can build an even greater understanding of how our birds and wildlife are doing this winter compared to previous years. Whatever you count, no matter the number, it will be really important to RSPB Scotland.”
As with every year, this year’s results will be compared with those from all the previous surveys, building up a picture of bird numbers in gardens across the country, and giving an indication of potentially concerning trends.
Last year’s Birdwatch showed some worrying results about three birds on the UK “red” list.
Starlings, whose stunning murmurations grace our skies in winter, have declined by 84 per cent since the first survey, while song thrushes saw an 81 per cent drop in numbers. House sparrows, despite topping the 2014 survey rankings, also remain a great concern, having decreased by 62 per cent since 1979.
Grey squirrels were the most common non-bird species reported in 2014, with 72 per cent of people seeing them in their gardens at least once a month. Red squirrels were only seen in three per cent of people’s gardens although this rose to 17 per cent in rural Scotland, indicating where their numbers are strongest.
Anyone can take part in this year’s survey. People are asked to spend just one hour at any time over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species in their garden or local outside space.
Results can be submitted until February 13 via the RSBP website www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or by post, or the non-bird species participants are asked to let the RSPB know if they see this wildlife in their gardens or local outside space at any time of year.