Eyes to the skies in Mid-Ulster!

Blackbird Turdus merula, perched on a washing line
Blackbird Turdus merula, perched on a washing line

THE RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on January 25 and 26.

And the charity is urging bird lovers in Cookstown and Magherafelt to set aside just one hour to participate in this fun, free and important activity.

Last year almost 600,000 people across the UK counted the birds in their patch, including more than 10,000 in Northern Ireland, and the biggest garden wildlife survey in the world revealed some worrying trends.

Some of our most threatened and best-loved bird species continued to decline, with the number of starlings, a red-listed species of the highest conservation concern, plummeting to an all-time low.

Numbers of house sparrows dropped by 17 per cent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst bullfinches and dunnocks, both amber-listed, fell by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

In past surveys Tyrone has showed very different results, and in 2013 chaffinch, house sparrow and goldfinch were recorded as the top three species.

Robins appeared in around 93 per cent of local gardens and sightings of the beautiful jay increased in too.

Big Garden Birdwatch, which has been running for a staggering 36 years, provides the RSPB with lots of information about changes in numbers of garden birds in winter and helps to alert conservationists to significant declines in UK garden species.

This year, for the first time, participants are also being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens – from squirrels to badgers, hedgehogs to frogs - to help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of animals a home.

Participants don’t have to count these non-avian species over the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, just tell the RSPB if they have ever seen them in their gardens.

To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time during Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local green space at any one time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or in the post.