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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2021: How to get your kids involved

Each year thousands of people across the UK participate in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch - an initiative where the public is invited to spend one hour watching and making note of which birds appear in their garden, outside their window, or in their local park, and then send their results to the RSPB. These results are used to create an updated set of data that reveals insight into bird numbers across the UK.

This year’s Birdwatch is coming up on January 29th-31st, and it’s a perfect chance to make the most of a fun yet simple activity where your children can learn something new too.

Blue Tit

With the UK in its third national lockdown, it's getting trickier to find new ways to keep the family upbeat and positive. The Big Garden Birdwatch is a fantastic activity for children - engaging with nature through a structured activity like this can help maintain physical and mental wellbeing, particularly in a time where outdoor trips are few and far between. Also, with almost half a million people getting involved in the Birdwatch every year, your children can feel connected to others through the shared experience of contributing to a nationwide project.

The RSPB’s chief executive Beccy Speight said: “We know that for many people, garden birds provide an important connection to the wider world and bring enormous joy. Lockdown brought few benefits, but the last year has either started or reignited a love of nature for many people. There has been a broad and much-needed realisation that nature is an important and necessary part of our lives especially for our mental health and wellbeing. But nature needs us too.”

What are the benefits of getting children involved in the Big Garden Birdwatch?

Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and Director of Ark Wildlife Ltd, spends a lot of time promoting the benefits of getting children to explore and interact with nature, having given presentations at many local schools.

An activity like birdwatching is such a great way to have fun with your children and could even inspire an interest in wildlife. Whether this entails stepping outside to watch the birds, or observing them through a window, the act of appreciating the surrounding wildlife is both a learning opportunity and a chance to have fun as a family. 

On the benefits of getting involved in the Birdwatch, Sean says:

“Maintaining concentration while home or remote learning is difficult for younger children and their education can suffer. However, giving them permission to gaze out the window, or explore the garden is a great way to learn without them even realising it. Counting, recording, drawing, observing and identifying visiting birds are all valuable learning opportunities in a fun and exciting way.”

“Birds are very present in all our lives. Even children who say they ‘know nothing’ when asked, are surprised when questioned about common birds. Can you identify a duck? An owl? A Seagull? Once their minds are opened, they can often identify a dozen or more birds they didn’t realise they knew. Eagle, goose, chicken, swan, penguin, turkey, parrot, robin. Maybe even blue tit, crow, kingfisher and blackbird. It’s fun to show children how much they know without even realising it. It builds confidence and encourages children to engage further in the natural world.”

“Spending time watching or walking in nature has been shown to benefit both mind and body, and this is as true for young people as it is adults. Sitting quietly in fresh air or walking in open spaces calms the mind and body, it balances our physiology and promotes production of positive hormones. Slowing to the pace of nature and it’s natural rhythms is greatly beneficial and contrasts starkly with our fast paced digital existences with all its distractions. Time spent in nature is never wasted.”

How can you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch with your children?

Taking part is simple - watch the birds in your garden with your children, and only count the birds that land, not those that fly over. Then, go onto the RSPB Birdwatch website and submit the highest number of each bird species you observed at any one time. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that will make the Big Garden Birdwatch as fun and educational as possible for your kids:

Print out some visual prompts. 

Having images to hand of what birds to look out for (which can be found on this RSPB resource) will help your children feel confident in spotting the correct creatures. That way, whether they spot the birds close-up or through a set of children's binoculars (any of these options would be perfect), they will have a better idea of how to identify the birds.

If you want your kids or your students to learn more about birds, you might also consider using some bird custom die cut stickers. Distribute them to children so they can learn about the different types of birds first, and then let children stick them on the notebook and enter the park to observe and record the birds according to the bird pattern sticker on the notebook.

Remain patient. 

When birdwatching, birds may not necessarily appear straight away, so it is important to encourage your children to make the most of all the beautiful sights and sounds that can be experienced in nature. Can they spot any other animals? Which is their favourite plant?

Use your ears just as much as your eyes. 

The sound of birds calling or singing can be just as beautiful as the sight of the bird, and can help relieve stress. If looking through a window from indoors makes it difficult to hear sounds, you could even try playing bird songs from a phone or laptop to elevate the experience for your kids!. 

Use sunflower seeds to attract more birds. 

Spreading sunflower seeds for birds (shells removed) out onto your outdoor space can have a big impact on the number and diversity of birds that are attracted to the area. So if there seems to be a lack of birds around your home, this tip could create a more exciting birdwatch experience!

You can be flexible with timing. 

Although the official event asks the public to watch for one hour on a specific weekend, do not be afraid to do whatever suits you. Some children may be excited to take part straight away, and some others may take some time to build enthusiasm.