It’s time to count the birds! The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch returns this weekend (January 26 to 28, 2024): will you be joining the many people watching and counting the UK’s wild birds?

The annual birdwatching event gives the RSPB wildlife charity a valuable snapshot of how garden birds are doing in the UK.

It is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. Over half a million people took part last year, counting more than a million birds.

Here in Surrey, over 14,000 people joined in and spotted the blue tit most often, while the woodpigeon and house sparrow completed the top three.

Nationally, house sparrows took the top spot for the 20th year running, but counts of these lively birds were down by 57 per cent compared with the first Birdwatch in 1979. The blue tit and starling were in the number two and three positions respectively.

The RSPB says we’ve lost 38 million birds from UK skies in the past 50 years. With birds facing so many challenges, the RSPB says it’s more important than ever to get involved in the Birdwatch. Every bird counted will give the RSPB a valuable insight into how garden birds are faring.

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, first sign up at then just spend an hour of your time at some point over the next three days (Friday to Sunday) watching and counting the birds you see from your garden, balcony or local park. 

Don’t worry if you can’t tell a blackbird from a starling: when you sign up you can download a free Big Garden Birdwatch guide which includes a bird identification chart.

Only count the birds that land, not those flying over. Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time, not the total you see in the hour. This ensures that the friendly robin which makes many visits to your patch is counted as one bird, not several.

It’s important to send in your result even if you spot just one or two birds or none at all during the hour – that’s important information too.

If you are really keen, you can do more than one watch over the weekend, but the RSPB says each must be from a different location, as it can accept only one watch per person per location. Each location should be documented when you report your results. You can do this online or by post.

I’ve heard comments in previous years that winter seems the wrong time for the Birdwatch, as fewer of our feathered friends seem to visit gardens at this time of year than in spring and summer, and the species mix is different. 

The RSPB’s response is that winter is when garden birds need us most: if it’s really cold, it’s likely more birds will come into our gardens looking for shelter and food, which makes it easier to count them. And, says the RSPB, because the Birdwatch takes place at the same time every year, it can look back over the years to see what has changed.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: “The birds we see in our gardens, from our balconies and in our parks are a lively, colourful and endlessly fascinating part of all our lives, offering a real connection to the natural world.

“Those who take part in the Birdwatch play an important role in helping the RSPB understand how UK birds are doing. With birds facing many challenges due to the nature and climate emergency, every count matters.”

Over its four decades, Big Garden Birdwatch has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world. It alerted the RSPB to the decline in song thrush numbers, which are down 81 per cent compared with the first Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979.

This species was a firm fixture in the top ten in 1979, but by 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979. It came in at 20 in the rankings last year, seen in just eight per cent of gardens.

Beccy added: “Whatever you see,  one blackbird, 20 sparrows or no birds at all, it all counts. It helps us build a vital overall picture of how our garden birds are faring from one year to the next. With so much challenging our birds now, it’s more important than ever to submit your results. Our garden birds are counting on you!”

For a free Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a bird identification chart, tips for your birdwatch, an RSPB shop voucher, and advice on attracting wildlife to your garden, visit

There is a parallel event, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch, in which schoolchildren are asked to get counting in their school grounds any time until February 19. Since its launch, over a million school children and teachers have taken part. Information can be found at