Big Garden Birdwatch: how to take part and garden birds to spot

Grab your binoculars and celebrate the 42nd Big Garden Birdwatch by recording your garden birds this weekend. Here is our guide on how to take part and the best birds to spot in your garden this winter

Blue tit on branch

The annual Big Garden Birdwatch returns on 29th-31st January 2021 for the UK’s largest garden based citizen science project. Find out how to take part and the best birds to spot in your garden this winter with our handy birdwatch guide.


According to the conservation charity, across the UK nearly 9 million hours have been spent watching garden birds since the Birdwatch began in 1979 with more than 137 million birds counted, helping provide the charity with valuable insight.

What is the Big Garden Birdwatch?

2021 marks the 42nd RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which sees keen birdwatchers across the UK join the largest garden wildlife citizen science project by spending one hour tracking the birds they see in their gardens. During that time, across the UK hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered their time. Last year, over 500,000 birds were counted by Big Garden Birdwatchers in Scotland giving real insight into how our birds are faring.

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Why take part?

Not only is it a great way to enjoy a spot of warm, winter twitching but it is also a vital opportunity for the RSPB to keep tabs on the population of British birds.

Since the Big Garden Birdwatch started in 1979, numbers of many species have been on the decline. These studies offer a chance to find out which species are struggling and perhaps provide clues as to why, and how they can be protected.

It also supplies conservationists with data tracing those birds that are doing well.

Birds such as the house sparrow, song thrush and starling have drastically declined since the late 1980s, while collared doves, woodpigeons and coal tit numbers have increased.

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings as the most commonly seen garden bird with more than 1.2 million recorded sightings in 2019.


How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch

This year’s event takes place on 29th, 30th and 31st January 2021. The public is asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB.

Mother and daughter birdwatching
Mother and her daughter counting birds in their garden in Bedfordshire/Credit: Eleanor Bentall (

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2020, simply watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only count the birds that land, not those flying over. Tell us the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not the total you see in the hour.

Once you have recorded the birds that make a visit, submit your results online at

Rebecca Munro, RSPB Director of Communications, said: “With nearly half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with 40 years’ worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are doing. With results from so many gardens, we are able to create a ‘snapshot’ of bird numbers across the UK.

“The popularity of Big Garden Birdwatch shows just how passionate people across the UK are about their wildlife. Everyone has a role to play in saving nature and protecting our wildlife. This event is an enjoyable, easy, inclusive activity that anyone can do and a great opportunity to connect with nature.”

As well as counting birds, participants are once again asked to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year. Some of the other wildlife participants may have seen over the last year include foxes, hedgehogs, or red squirrels. Across the UK just 6% of those taking part had seen a red squirrel in their garden in the past year, while in Scotland 37% reported they had.

Great tit
Great tit Parus major, on RSPB coconut treat feeder/Credit: Chris Gomersall (

RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch

The parallel event, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term (5 January – 22 February 2021). 60,000 schoolchildren spent an hour in nature counting birds in 2019. Further information can be found at

Where do birds go to winter?

As the days get shorter, millions of birds take flight and leave the UK ahead of winter.

Black cap

This common warbler is a short-range migrant that winters in southern Spain and Morocco. But in recent years, breeders from Germany and Austria have been flying west to spend the winter with us in Britain, and these birds often visit garden feeders.

See our guide to some of the more impressive bird migration routes, from swallows and swifts to Arctic terns


Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

How birds are faring

For four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world, with the survey previously revealing increases across the UK in collared dove and wood pigeon numbers and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers across the UK, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 57% (1979 – 2018), house sparrows were recorded in 76% of gardens in Scotland in 2018, up from 66% a decade ago.

It was one of the first surveys to alert the RSPB to the decline in the number of song thrushes in gardens. This species was a firm fixture in the top 10 in 1979 but 30 years later its numbers are less than half those recorded in 1979. By 2019, numbers of song thrushes seen in gardens have declined by 76%, coming in at number 20.

The top 10 birds in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

Rank. Species – average per garden (% of gardens species recorded in 2020)

  1. House sparrow – 4.7 (64)
  2. Starling – 3.0 (38)
  3. Blue tit – 2.9 (80)
  4. Woodpigeon – 2.3 (76)
  5. Blackbird – 2.1 (85)
  6. Goldfinch – 1.7 (32)
  7. Great tit – 1.5 (58)
  8. Robin – 1.4 (83)
  9. Long-tailed tit – 1.3 (30)
  10. Magpie – 1.2 (55)

Garden birds to spot


House sparrow

House sparrow
House sparrow, Passer domesticus, male, perched on stone in …
Ray Kennedy (

The house sparrow was the top recorded garden bird in 2019. Spotted in 63% of gardens, but suffering a 56% decline in numbers since the start of the Birdwatch in 1979.




Britain’s most recognisable garden bird, the robin, was spotted in 82% of British gardens in 2019.



Dunnock Prunella modularis/Credit: Andy Hay (

Dunnocks were spotted in 43% of gardens in 2019.



Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, single bird on rowan berries ©Getty
Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, single bird on rowan berries ©Getty

The striking waxwing sadly did not make the top 20 garden bird list in 2019, but it is still worth keeping an eye out.



Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis/Credit: John Bridges (

The delicate goldfinch was spotted in 34% of gardens in 2019.


Blue tit

Blue tit on branch
Blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus, adult perched on branch, Scotland/Credit:
Louise Greenhorn (

The colourful blue tit was spotted in 77% of gardens in 2019. These tiny garden birds relish a well-stocked feeder.



Starling Sturnus vulgaris, adult male in hedge/Credit: Andy Hay (

Starling numbers have suffered serious declines since the garden birdwatch first began in 1979, with a decline in sighting of 80%.

Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison writes about the plight of the starling in Britain

What is a murmuration and why do they happen?

It’s been called the greatest wildlife spectacle in Britain and is remarkable to witness. Studies suggest that starlings congregate in these remarkable ‘murmurations’ to deter possible predators, which are confused by the swirling masses. Despite a recent drop in their overall population, you can still witness the mesmerising sight of thousands of birds performing their aerial dance at dawn and dusk.

Discover more about starling murmurations with our handy guide




Garden birds: male Blackbird, Turdus Merula/Credit:Andy Hay (rspb-images)

Unsurprisingly, the blackbird was spotted in 87% of gardens in 2019.



Chaffinch Fingilla coelebs, adult male on his
Chaffinch Fingilla coelebs, adult male on his “song post” Andy Hay (

Chaffinch were spotted in just 38% of gardens in 2019.



Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, perched on an old tree stump. John Bridges (

Wren were spotted in just 21% of gardens in 2019.