Tweeting appreciation: bird-watching groups take flight in lockdown


Grassroots bird-watching and gardening groups have seen an influx of new members during the pandemic, which has reignited a British love-affair for birds and their song.

“People have loved watching birds in the garden and it’s one of the great solaces of nature,” says Fran Halsall, founder of Sheffield’s Wildlife Gardening community Facebook group, which has nearly tripled in size since the first lockdown.

“Over lockdown, the group was incredibly busy. I’m expecting a big influx into our community in the spring. We’ve also had quite a lot of interest in bird walks in Ecclesall Woods, although unfortunately we’ve had to cancel some of them for reasons of safety.”

People can watch the colourful arrival of spring transforming their gardens and parks in Covid-complaint ways, and without any specialist equipment.

A new survey commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has revealed that lockdown has brought many of us closer to the natural world, with over half of UK adults saying the pandemic has made them more aware of nature in their local area.

The YouGov poll found two thirds of the public are soothing their pandemic anxiety by watching birds and hearing their song.

“We know the bleak winter weather has made lockdown restrictions feel unbearable for many,” says Beccy Speight, chief executive at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is preparing for its Big Garden Birdwatch, which runs from 29 to 31 January. The annual event invites people to count their garden birds and is one of the world’s largest citizen science events.

“We hope the Birdwatch will help lift spirits and remind people nature is an incredible, reassuring constant when everything else has been disrupted. Nature will get us through.”

Taking part in the count will be Ann Webster, from Cheshire, who says she has recently noticed new visitors to her garden: male and female blackcap birds. Observers are invited to spend just an hour in their garden or balcony logging only the birds that land, not those flying over, and recording the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.

“The sound of birdsong replaced the usual constant hum of traffic in the first lockdown and made us stop and appreciate nature so much,” says Webster.

The British Trust for Ornithology, a UK charity for bird conservation, reports its membership has doubled since enabling free access to its year-round Garden BirdWatch survey in March 2020.

“It has been amazing to see how the interest in our wildlife has risen during the last 11 months,” says Paul Stancliffe of the BTO, which is running online courses in identifying birdsong.

“Once lockdown is over we hope that people will continue to help us monitor our wild birds and take part in a BTO survey,” says Stancliffe, adding that such studies are vital for establishing how to save declining species.

For example, when the BTO noticed a drop in greenfinches and chaffinches due to trichomonosis, a disease, it led to the publication of guidelines on disinfecting and drying feeders regularly.

The RSPB’s survey also showed just over half of the UK public have been feeding garden birds during the past 12 months, with 19% feeding them daily.

As everyday life dramatically quietened over lockdown, the cacophonous morning songs of outdoors became louder, and their impressive range captured the imagination of amateur birdwatcher John Dear, from Teesside.

“During the first lockdown, all we could hear was a hum of insects in the background of birdsong,” he says. “It was an amazing 3D auditory experience as sounds rose and fell in volume as well as origin. It reminded me of the early days of stereo records.”

From podcasts to bird identification apps, technology has also helped many nature lovers recognise the calls of a vast variety of birds in their neighbourhood.

Laurence May, from Hazlemere, started following dedicated YouTube channels during lockdown to try to learn bird songs: “So far, I can identify robins and starlings pretty easily – it is a fun thing to do and will definitely help me improve my bird-watching ability.”


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