Issue 2, Winter 2019

Double benefits for the Garden Wildlife Watcher

Words by Robert Jaques - Pictures by Carl Bovis

20 Dec 2019  | 

During winter months we may not be so active in exploring the countryside and venturing out into cold weather. But our connection with nature can remain strong if we just take a few moments to explore the wonder that is around us. Nature will still bring us peace, moments of reflection, and a little bit of indulgence in the magical beauty that is within our local environment.

Celebrating the wonders of our garden birds and wildlife, Robert Jaques from the British Trust of Ornithology tells us more about monitoring and supporting our beautiful visitors. Wonderfully expressed through the photographs of Carl Bovis, share the striking captured moments of our ‘birds in action’.  

The 'Angelic Chaffinch' - ©Carl Bovis

For the majority of us, garden birds are the most regular way we interact with wildlife. It has been repeatedly shown how important interacting with nature is for our health and well-being, so it is no surprise how committed so many of us become to the animals that share our gardens. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) tries to answer questions using Garden BirdWatch, a project harnessing the dedication people have for their garden wildlife. 

There are some 12,000 members currently involved in the Birdwatch Project, who submit weekly counts of the birds they see in their garden, along with details of the food that has been put out for them. Also included are sightings of other animals (such as mammals, amphibians, or butterflies). With the BTO now coming into its 25th year, this means we have a vast amount of data to be able to answer important questions and understand wildlife behaviours.

Through information submitted, we can see long term population changes and the short term effects of events such as weather. Over the last 25 years we have seen the shifting fortunes of many of our most common birds. Goldfinch and Woodpigeon numbers continue to rise - Goldfinches particularly, as they exploit the niger seed and sunflower hearts we have provided them for the last 20 years. 

We have also seen a decline in Greenfinch, due to a disease known as Trichomonosis. This may also be having a similar effect on Collared Doves and Chaffinch. Knowing this has enabled us to advise on how to maintain and clean feeders to prevent the spread of this and other diseases. We can say more than just how well our garden species are doing. We can also begin to understand other factors which might affect the birds. 

Thanks to the diligent work of our Garden BirdWatchers we can answer a whole range of questions. Does the presence of a pond or the number of trees change which birds we are likely to see? Does a rise in one species’ population cause a drop in others? Enthusiasm for wildlife recording has led to other surveys asking more specific questions. We’ve been able to investigate a wide range of topics including disease and abnormal plumages in garden birds, Tawny Owl behaviour, Goldfinch and Rook populations. 

My own interest in birds and wildlife began as a child, with some of my strongest memories being those of animals seen in my garden, such as Blue Tit busily moving along the crevices of a fence looking for insects or a Sparrowhawk darting quickly along a hedge. The excitement of seeing these creatures so close to home led to me finding books on nature and wanting to explore further afield to find the other animals on those pages.

Taking time, even if only 10 or 20 minutes each week, to simply observe the comings and goings of a garden can offer a peaceful time in our otherwise hectic lives, while still contributing to something beneficial for the wildlife we enjoy watching. 

Robert Jaques is Garden BirdWatch Supporter Development Officer at the British Trust for Ornithology

If you want to find out more about the BTO Project and how to get involved visit: or connect through social media at Facebook: /Gardenbirdwatch and Twitter @BTO_GBW

“I'm a nature lover and photographer from the Somerset Levels, who is particularly fond of birds. I've been taking pictures of them for 13 years and I always endeavour to catch them in different or unusual poses, especially in mid-air. I've recently started selling prints, cards and calendars of my work, and have a book coming out soon.”
Find out more at Twitter:  @CarlBovisNature
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