Count on our feathered friends

OUR feathered friends bring a touch of the wild to your back garden, and are a source of much joy for many. Today The Evening Star is teaming up with the RSPB so you can help count Suffolk birds.

OUR feathered friends bring a touch of the wild to your back garden, and are a source of much joy for many. Today The Evening Star is teaming up with the RSPB so you can help count Suffolk birds. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports.

FROM the common blackbird to the more unusual blackcap, birds will become the focus of the nation's efforts this weekend - and you can play your part.

Last year, nearly 400,000 people across the UK took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.

Six million birds were recorded and 210,000 gardens surveyed, with the aim of finding out which is our most common garden bird.

Today the Evening Star has teamed up with the RSPB and to invite you to participate - and we will report the results of what readers found.

Big Garden Birdwatch, now in its 27th year, produces a snapshot of winter bird populations.

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Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator, said: “The word birdwatching may conjure up images of individuals with wellies and binoculars scouring the countryside in all weathers, but in reality, most birdwatching is done by 'ordinary' people watching the birds in their garden or local park.”

Since 1979, Big Garden Birdwatch has provided valuable information, including how birds are faring in different geographical areas.

The starling, beaten to the top spot in 2005 by the house sparrow, has seen its numbers plummet from 15 per garden to an average of four, a decline of 71 per cent.

The house sparrow, with an average of five per garden, has declined by 52pc since 1979 when an average of ten birds were seen.

After a slight increase in recent years, song thrush numbers dropped again in 2005, and for the first time this red-listed species dropped out of the top 20 garden birds. It held seventh place in 1979.

Pigeons and tits have fared particularly well.

Richard added: “You don't have to be an expert to take part and it's a fun event designed for all the family. Whether you're young or old, an 'expert' or a beginner, there really is no better place to start and the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch provides the ideal opportunity to begin a lifetime's interest.”

To take part, simply spend one hour over the weekend, counting the birds in your garden or local park, and record the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time. The morning is the best time to look, when the birds are out and about feeding after a cold winter night.

The Big Schools' Birdwatch started on January 23 and runs until February 3, with children and their teachers looking out for and counting the birds that share their school environment. It aims to encourage children to identify and take an interest in the birds visiting their school grounds. In 2005, 1,200 schools, involving more than 30,000 participants, took part in the survey counting 57,588 birds.Results revealed that the starling was the most commonly seen bird in school grounds in the UK, with an average of 6.3 seen per school.

Weblink: www.rspb.org.uk

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Have you seen an unusual bird in your garden?

Write to Star Letters, the Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

House sparrow

Starling

Blue tit

Blackbird

Greenfinch

Chaffinch.

Collared dove

Woodpigeon

Great tit

Robin

The project started life in the winter of 1978/79 as a children's activity, and apart from size, has remained virtually unchanged.

Now, the survey is open to all - children and adults, members and non-members and every effort is made to spread the word to get as many people watching and counting as possible, so the RSPB can compare results over time to see how our familiar garden birds are doing.

Birds have long been regarded as an excellent indicator for the health of the countryside.

It is also important to raise awareness about the birds around us and the problems they face.

The table shows the average number of the top 15 species of birds recorded per garden across the UK in the 1979 Big Garden Birdwatch, and compares this with the results from 2005 survey.

Average per garden in 1979 Average per garden in 2005 % change

starling 15 3.6 -76

house sparrow 10 4.6 -54

blackbird 4.0 2.4 -39

chaffinch 3.0 1.7 -43

blue tit 2.4 2.9 +21

robin 2.0 1.3 -36

greenfinch 1.0 1.8 +83

great tit 0.9 1.4 +54

dunnock 0.8 1.1 +38

song thrush 0.6 0.2 -67

magpie 0.4 0.9 +120

collared dove 0.3 1.5 +403

coal tit 0.2 0.6 +180

wren 0.2 0.4 +85

woodpigeon 0.2 1.4 +615

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