The importance of our gardens for wild birds can be seen in this photo. Can you spot four species?

At the base of the bird feeders are two female pheasants, they are waiting patiently for the crumbs that fall out of the bird feeder as other birds visit and scatter bits below. With them another ground feeder, a dunnock to the left of the photo. Just visible on the feeder on the right is a nuthatch, one of a pair that have been regular visitors to my garden this winter. He is feeding on sunflower hearts, definitely the most popular food in my garden. The mixed seeds in another feeder are the next most popular, especially for the tits. In the top left corner of the photo is a green woodpecker, it spent about 10 minutes in that spot delving for food in the soft earth. The brown mottling on the grass is where the grass had been left long over the summer for grasshoppers, and cut in the winter; it has been a source of food for several species of bird, I guess that means there might be less grasshoppers next year as their eggs might well be part of their diet. The photo was taken on the 7th of February and highlights three ways in which our gardens can provide for birds in the winter, through raised (squirrel proof!) bird feeders, seed mixes for ground feeders and healthy messy lawns for soil feeders.

The local results from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this year do not look very promising. The good news locally is that the one species that has done well since last year is the dunnock (or hedge sparrow), its numbers are nearly double what they were last year. On the other hand, three of the tit species have seen a decline on last year. The blue tit and coal tit are both down by approximately 40% but the greatest decline is in the number of long-tailed tits, down by 85%. This is a particularly alarming figure for one of our most charming bird species. The data we have collected for this information is quite limited so there are bound to be statistical inaccuracies within our figures, but the results certainly bear out my experience of watching the birds in my garden this year: I have seen no coal tits, the blue and great tits are in fewer numbers; long-tailed tits have visited my garden, but three has been the maximum, which is not flocks of a dozen or more that have visited in the past. If you can help there is a host of fantastic advice on the RSPB website, from plants you can grow, how hedges can help and even an advanced course for lawns. I must read that one myself.

The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group will be publishing a full report on the Sid Valley Big Garden Birdwatch in due course, this will be available on our website, sidvalleybiodivesity.org.uk. We are awaiting the publication of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch for 2022 to see how our local bird survey compares to the national results. Meanwhile, there is another opportunity to get involved with bird watching at the moment, the Big Farmland Bird Count is underway, running from the 4-20th February. Nicola Westlake is coordinating the count on South Combe farm, Salcombe Regis. If you are interested in helping with this, please contact Nicola on bullocknj@hotmail.com She has a great many initiatives in the pipeline and wants to record what the state of the birdlife is like on her farm at the moment so she can compare it to future populations once all the improvements have been made. I look forward to being involved with this myself.

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