Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer

'Christmas is the one time of year that we collectively decide to go in to hibernation’ my colleague said the other day. ‘We don’t tell each other, everyone just knows that it will happen.’ Yet while we are all emerging from a restful and sleepy festive period, for birds the winter months are a continual frenzy of feeding activity. With little ‘natural food’ such as berries and seeds left in the countryside and the cold days and even colder nights ending many of our insects in to hibernation many of our garden birds rely on our well-stocked bird tables to keep them from going hungry. I often find it hard to believe that insect-eating birds such as the tiny goldcrests and cute-faced long-tailed tits survive at all. For them every waking moment is spent seeking sustenance.

Tony Marsh (

Not only does a laden bird table and full feeders help garden birds survive through to the spring but the birds they attract put on a great show for us. I can spend hours watching through the window at the birds in my garden until I almost feel that I know each group or individual personally. We have a resident robin that has taken the garden over as its territory, a flock of goldfinches that twitter musically from the top of the old yew tree, woodpigeons that feast on the lawn and blue tits that hang acrobatically from the wall to probe for insects in the cracks in the bricks. The feeders are alive with blush-breasted chaffinches, shouting out their ‘chink, chink!’ call as they feast on sunflower seeds.

It’s good to know that my leisurely watching the birds through my window can have conservation benefits as well as providing me with a relaxing and fulfilling way to spend my time. Over the weekend of the 25-26 January help the RSPB by spending an hour watching the wildlife in your garden and reporting back to us what you see. Remember to record the maximum number of each species of bird you see at any one time.  That way we will know that you are not counting the same bird more than once. Once all the results are in, and the scientists have done their stuff, we end up with a picture of long-term trends in bird populations and can identify which birds are doing well and which need help. What’s really important is that the survey is carried out in the same way each year (the Big Garden Birdwatch has been going since 1979). That way we can compare results and look out for population trends.

This year the Big Garden Birdwatch is extending its reach too. Really it should be called the Big Garden Wildlife Watch for we also wants to hear about the other creatures you might find in your garden such as hedgehogs, frogs or deer. This will help start to build an even bigger picture of Britain’s garden wildlife and where efforts need to be particularly directed.

Of course we can all start making a difference and help save our garden wildlife right now. Here are the top 5 tips for giving wildlife a home on your back doorstep.

1)    Feeding birds is really important, especially over the winter months. Provide as wide a range of foods as you can. Blue tits and great tits love peanuts and fat balls. Robins go for mealworms and fatty scraps on the bird table (they find it hard to negotiate a hanging fat ball) and finches love seeds. Remember if you like to see goldfinches then nyjer seed is your best bet. Water is essential too so keep a bird bath clean and free of ice for birds and animals to drink and bathe in.

2)    Between now and March next year is the time to plant shrubs and trees for next year. Choose varieties that will bear nectar rich blossom (apples, plums) or berries come the winter (firethorn, snowberry). Cover is also important for nesting birds – my bay tree has been home to nesting blackbirds every year for five years now.

3)    With the garden at rest over the winter, the next few months are a great time to get on with DIY projects like putting together nestboxes, batboxes and ‘frogitats’ for the spring. These boxes will need to go up in February when nesting birds start prospecting for sites to raise their broods.

4)    Keep raking up those falling leaves but don’t dispose of them. A pile of fallen leaves makes a great hiding place for a host of species as do log piles and compost heaps. At this time of year be careful not to disturb any hibernating hedgehogs that might be hiding away beneath!

5)    Planning is priceless! Order your seed catalogues now, make a sowing plan for next year and design any new features you want to add to your garden. Remember that a nectar rich border in spring and summer is invaluable for bees and butterflies. If you fancy a bigger project no wildlife garden is complete without a pond!

For more information about the Big Garden Birdwatch and how to take part please go to

For help and advice on wildlife friendly gardening visit