For the Birds

Poster for a blog post on Bird Watch Ireland's Garden Bird Survey and how it impacted on the writer.

It is really hard to believe but we are already half way through the Garden Bird Survey season.  It starts at the beginning of December and runs to the end of February. Its one of these quiet hobbies ….no-one is jumping up and down or waving flags ……but actually it plays quite a big part in environmental awareness in the country. It is run by Bird Watch Ireland, which has headquarters in Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow, and helps to monitor the number and species of wild birds that come to bird tables all over the country.

Anyone can take part.  All that is required is that you fill out a chart recording the number of particular species that come to your bird-table, and return its findings to BirdWatch at the end of the survey.  I started it about 8 years ago when I was laid up with a bad knee and couldn’t move around easily. I was looking for a bit of diversion and found it so much fun that I have done it each year.  In reality it requires little more than looking out the window.   Oh – and providing the food, of course!

I look forward both to the slight challenge it presents and to the results which are published the following year. I am fascinated to note that the changes I have found in numbers and species are replicated in most counties around the country.  A couple of years ago it was Goldfinches – which until then I had never seen – but for some reason they were present in great numbers. They were probably attracted by the Niger Seed which I had put out. Until that year I had never even heard of Niger Seed, but apparently goldfinches would kill (almost!) for it! I saw very few last year and so far this year – none!

But the whole process has educated me on our wild birds….the four types of Tit ( blue, coal, great and long-tailed),  the five finches, (green, gold, chaffinch, siskin, bullfinch) – all these have taken my offerings. The dunnock is there too, and the wren, although they both creep around stealthily because they are shy birds. And of course, the robin. The blackbird and thrush don’t come, alas! And I don’t have any starlings, a species that I love for their sense of fun. (They are great mimics).

There could be a problem with the bigger birds  (many bird watchers don’t like them) but I refuse to look at it like that. Pigeons, crows, jackdaws, magpies ….yes, they make sure they get what they want first, but, after all, they need to be fed too. And the little birds know how to deal with them. They just wait till they go away – or else get there first!.

The REAL problem is with the squirrel. We have just one at the moment and he likes all the bird food – peanuts, sunflower seed, millet. He’s lovely from a distance, with his fluffy tail, but I really hate the look of him close up.  He has such a rodent’s face. But this is the natural world.


There are a couple of monitoring projects ongoing in Ireland at any given time which the public are welcome to take part in and which add to scientific records.  For a few years I took part in the Butterfly Monitoring Project which was organised by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. It was less satisfying for me than the birds, though it took place over a longer period……usually starting in April and running till the end of August.  What struck me about that was how few, really few, butterflies there were.


It was a bit more demanding than the bird survey.  I was required to plan out a route, describe it in detail, and follow it, one day a week, recording what butterflies I saw, what the wind speed was and the amount of sun. I think I stopped taking part in this monitoring scheme out of a sense of disappointment.  If I came across four butterflies on my route it was the very most, any day.  How sad is that ….and what does it tell us about our environment? Am I only imagining the number of butterflies I saw as a child?



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