BirdWatch Ireland runs an annual survey of garden birds to monitor the number and variety of birds visiting our gardens. The current survey runs from the start of December 2017 to the end of February 2018. The countryside has undergone great change in the last few decades and native habitats are diminishing. Gardens now perform an important role in maintaining stocks of different species of birds. The first part of the survey involves a description of the garden: its size and location, and whether feeding stations are provided.
The main survey is quite simple, the largest number of a particular species observed in each one week period is recorded. A list of the most likely bird species is provided with some blank spaces for other species observed. The survey only records the number of birds seen together at any one time to avoid duplication. The results of the surveys are compiled and can be viewed online. A table of the Top 20 birds in Irish gardens is produced from the figures. The robin has topped the table for the last several years, followed closely by the blackbird, appearing in almost 100% of gardens.
Completing the survey is a highlight of the winter months. With the vegetation down it is easier to spot the different visitors to the bird table, however counting them is quite a challenge. Sparrows appear in the largest numbers in our garden followed by tits (great tits, blue tits, coal tits and long tailed tits) and finches (chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches and bullfinches). The tits are among my favourite birds, they are always impeccably turned out, looking smart and well dressed no matter what the season. They are intelligent too, they will cautiously examine any new feeding feature and quickly figure out how it works. They will often swoop into the bucket of grain to grab some seeds before they are served up.
We have two robins at present, they do not seem to be a mating pair as they are often involved in aggressive behaviour. Blackbirds are daily visitors, they like to feast on chopped apples which are bruised or no longer perfect and are not good for human consumption. When the weather gets very cold and frosty they get some chopped up grapes as well. One song thrush visits most days, he picks around under the shrubs. We have two wrens, one very light in colour, they live around the compost bins and do not bother with the bird table. We have seen the lovely gold crests, sometimes one or two together, but they are rare visitors.
Our collar doves come in to peck at the food dropped on the ground and to sit contemplating the world on the wall or on the branches of our trees. We have one visiting jackdaw who feeds on the food dropped from the bird table. He is welcome on his own, but when a group arrives it always means trouble: they squabble and fight, knock over the feeders and frighten away all the smaller birds. We have very few starlings so far this year. We usually have two or three regular visitors to the feeders, and from time to time a large group who start at one end of the grass and carefully cover the entire space searching for worms and grubs, and then fly off.
For the last number of years our garden is on the radar of a sparrowhawk. He swoops in every few weeks and sometimes he makes a catch. I feel no guilt about frightening him away, I know he needs to eat and feed a family, but our birds are sitting targets and easy prey.