Folk flock to count our feathered friends in Big Garden Birdwatch

Witney Gazette: Louis Akers, eight, and his dad Steve prepare for the Big Garden Birdwatch. Picture: OX56954 Antony Moore Buy this photo Louis Akers, eight, and his dad Steve prepare for the Big Garden Birdwatch. Picture: OX56954 Antony Moore

THE Akers family from Chipping Norton, are among more than 10,000 people across the county expected to turn twitcher this weekend for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Now in its 34th year, Birdwatch asks people to spend an hour recording the birdlife in gardens, schools and parks, to capture a snapshot of the UK’s garden bird population.

Just over 10,000 people from Oxfordshire took part last year, and more than half a million nationally, counted nine million birds between them. It is hoped even more will become bird detectives this weekend, helping to provide organisers, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), with the data they need to help protect endangered species.

Fen Gerry, the regional spokesperson for the RSPB said: “Birdwatch has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in garden birds – house sparrow numbers have fallen by two thirds since 1979.

“In Oxfordshire alone, 10,187 people took part in Birdwatch last year, helping us find out more about bird numbers and distribution, and that has been the first step in helping to put things right.”

Ms Gerry revealed that in Oxfordshire house sparrows were at number one in the county’s most sighted list last year, with an average of four spotted an hour. The threatened starling, which was second in 2004, only made it to number four.

The woodpigeon however, one of the few species to be thriving, with numbers up 800 per cent since the survey started, rose to five on the list, from 8th in 2004.

The Akers family has taken part in Birdwatch for the past five years.

Steve Akers, 57, his wife Sharon, 47, and sons Rory, 10 and Louis, eight, record their findings early in the morning, when most birds come in to feed in their garden in The Leys, Chipping Norton.

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Mr Akers, who is a Unison official, said: “I have been a bird enthusiast since I was eight and the boys now have great bird ID skills too. We look forward to Birdwatch and because we put out a lot of feed all year round, we get many varieties of birds in our garden.”

He added: “It’s interesting to see the trends each year - gold and green finches seem to be holding their own, whereas sadly, song thrushes are very rare.

“We are lucky to have a colony of house sparrows living in the uneven brickwork of our neighbour’s house. But more modern buildings mean birds which once lived close to people, don’t now get the nesting opportunities.”

Shortly after last year’s Birdwatch, the Akers’ became heroes of the ornithological world when they discovered a rare oriental turtle dove had taken up residence in their back garden. Around 500 bird enthusiasts queued outside their home, paying £5 each to view the bird, with all proceeds going to Malta’s anti shooting campaign.

Mr Akers said: “It was a very exciting time.

“This weekend we hope to record a wide range of species for the RSPB."

How to take part.

WATCH the birds in your garden for one hour this weekend Record the highest number of each bird you see at the same time – the Birdwatch website has handy bird identification tools. Don’t count the total over the hour as you may get the same birds visiting more than once.

Once your hour is up, record what you’ve seen on the online form at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

Schools, including Caldecott Primary in Abingdon and St Joseph’s RC Primary in Oxford will be taking part in Big Schools’ Birdwatch from January 21 to February 1.

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