Garden BirdWatch

Blue Tit on garden feeder

Help track the changing fortunes of our garden birds alongside 12,000 other Garden BirdWatchers

Many birdwatchers and householders already keep simple records of the birds that they see using their gardens throughout the year. The collection of such information is incredibly useful and, if carried out in a systematic manner, these weekly observations of birds (and other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers. BTO Garden BirdWatch enables you to collect this information in a standardised way alongside similar information from many thousands of other garden birdwatchers. In effect, you are a 'citizen scientist' working in partnership with BTO researchers to answer important questions about how, why, and when birds use gardens and the resources they contain. Garden BirdWatch is funded by a subscription fee of £17 a year, which covers the cost of the scheme and the member's magazine Bird Table.

Participants are asked to record the birds and other wildlife using their gardens, making records from the same place (their defined 'recording area') at more or less the same time or times each week. Continuity of recording effort is more important than the quantity of recording, since this is a relative measure of garden use changing from week to week. Only species actively using the garden are recorded, so birds seen from the garden in flight are not recorded.

Participants record the maximum number of individuals of each species seen together at one point in time during the recording period. Hence, if you recorded for an hour each day throughout the week and saw two Blackbirds together on the Monday, 1 each on the Tuesday and Wednesday, none on Thursday, 3 on Friday and 1 each on Saturday and Sunday, your count for the week would be the '3' from Friday.

Garden BirdWatch gathers information in a way that makes it possible to measure relative change in the use that birds make of gardens. This approach is similar to that used in many other long-running BTO surveys and it is particularly suited to large-scale projects covering a wider range of different species at many different recording sites.

Garden BirdWatch is funded through the annual subscription paid by its participants and we are extremely grateful for the support that they provided. Garden BirdWatchers receive a quarterly magazine, so even if you can’t survey your birds you can support the scheme and learn. 

Species-specific Surveys and Garden Wildlife Health

Garden BirdWatch is not just about the weekly recording that we carry out. Having a national network of observers provides us with an excellent opportunity to address other questions concerning how birds and other creatures use gardens and garden resources. This has included targeted surveys for House sparrows and Blackcaps, amongst others, and it has also allowed us to collate ongoing data on abnormal plumage and beak deformities in garden birds.

Garden BirdWatch participants also provide weekly observations of any sick and diseased wildlife seen in their gardens as part of the Garden BirdWatch project. This systematically recorded information feeds directly into the Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) project; a collaboration between the BTO, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Froglife.  The GWH project aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife, and our particular focus is on garden birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs.

Time / skill required

  • Minimum of 20 minutes per week recommended.
  • Can identify common garden birds by sight.
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Project timeline, contributions & findings

Project timeline

  • Jan 1995 - Garden BirdWatch recording begins
  • Dec 2010 - Big Garden Beakwatch Survey launched
  • Dec 2011 - Abnormal Plumage Survey launched
  • Jan 2014 - Garden Wildlife Health project launched 

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Find out more about the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme, including results, interesting observations from participants and upcoming events. The newsletter is sent out towards the end of every month, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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