BTO Garden BirdWatch and feeding data back to volunteers

Logo: BTO

By Rob Jaques, BTO Garden BirdWatch Supporter Development Officer

Close-up of a wood pigeon
Woodpigeon (BTO/Liz Cutting)

For the uninitiated, the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch is a survey that runs throughout the entire year, recording birds, butterflies and a host of other wildlife in gardens (and other greenspaces). We are incredibly fortunate to have a large number of dedicated volunteers who submit their counts weekly, giving us an incredible opportunity to see what animals make use of our gardens. This information can in turn be used to provide better advice for those who wish to make their gardens better for wildlife.

Two Greenfinches squabbling as they balance on a branch
Pair of greenfinch squabble on a branch (BTO/Edmund Fellowes)

With nearly 30 years of data, we have seen the rise of woodpigeon and goldfinch, declines of greenfinch, the spread of tree bumblebee, and the changing seasonality of hedgehogs, to name but a few, and we continue to see new changes in the animals which are found in our gardens and how they make use of it. These changes led to further investigation by BTO scientists and other researchers, making sure this valuable data is used. Sometimes we need to know more about a particular species and its behaviour, and fortunately, we have that bank of eager citizen scientists to help us, whether it is looking out for colour-ringed blackcaps on migration or recording goldfinch feeding habits.

Clearly, we wouldn’t know about many of these changes without the dedication of our volunteers. Many reading this will be deeply aware of the power of volunteers, whether doing on-the-ground conservation work or contributing to citizen science projects. What is special about BTO Garden BirdWatch is how quickly we can report back to our contributors about the data that they have input. Through our weekly newsletters and social media channels we can let people know why, for example, they might be seeing more siskins on their feeders or why a wave of painted ladies has swept through the country. We hope that this helps to create a sense of community among those who take part, knowing that they contribute to something large and with impact, and share similar experiences with people throughout the UK. Sometimes we hear from someone who had a more remarkable visitor, such as a colourful hoopoe or an unexpected silver-washed fritillary, and it's amazing to be able to share this excitement with other Garden BirdWatchers and get them looking forward to what they might find.

Graph showing average goldfinch sightings across a year
Goldfinch data: Red line indicates 2024, and all grey lines represent previous years, going back in time as they get paler (BTO)
A holly blue butterfly sitting on a leaf
Holly blue (BTO/Liz Cutting)

A strength of the survey for our participants is its accessibility. We have participants from central London to remote Scottish islands taking part, both providing valuable information. You don’t need to travel, have expensive equipment or even feed the birds to contribute. We can cater for those without internet access by providing paper recording forms instead of our online platform. Even those without a garden can get involved, as we allow people to record from community gardens, parks and allotments. As long as a garden-like space is used week-on-week, that will provide us with useful information. It doesn’t have to be a solitary experience, and we know from sites like community wildlife gardens or retirement homes, that different people will take on watching duties on different days, or watch together.

If you wish to share Garden BirdWatch with your volunteers or supporters, then please let us know! We are more than happy to share materials and information with those interested in the scheme. Even just signing up to our weekly newsletter means you can find out about what is being seen and how we might help our garden wildlife.

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Posted On: 20/05/2024

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