I grew up in suburban Manchester and loved watching the birds in our garden. There were blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, blue tits, great tits and lots and lots of house sparrows and starlings. My parents still live in the same house and the garden is still full of birds. The species have changed though, there are now lots of goldfinches (attracted by the nyger seeds my parents put out for them) and very recently redpolls have started visiting in some number (also attracted to the nyger seeds). Also there are a lot more crows these days, including the occasional jay and lots of magpies. House sparrows have declined (as they have across most of the UK) though last time I visited, there were lots of house sparrows, I hadn't seen so many there since I was growing up. My parents always take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, but often complain that the most interesting species don't turn up that day!
As an adult, I have mostly lived without a proper garden. When I lived in Malawi we had bougainvillea growing over our verandah and a small vegetable patch outside under a papaya tree. A fish eagle lived in a tree behind our garden and several birds visited, including a beautiful kingfisher who must have lost its way from the nearby Lake Malawi (though it wasn't a pied kingfisher, which was the prevelant lake species, in fact I never found out what species it was). Also in Malawi, though in someone else's garden, I saw the only hoopoe I've ever seen (though there was a rumour when I was a student that a hoopoe visited Edinburgh every summer).
Where we live in Edinburgh there's a pretty bush in front of the garden where a dunnock skulks, sometimes joined by a robin. Behind our building there is a shared backgreen with a vegetable plot, some well looked after gardens and some bramble patches. Some of the neighbours put out bird feeders. I've seen several species out there, robins, blue tits, song thrushes and dunnocks. One Christmas Day 50 fieldfares appeared from nowhere and took over the whole backgreen then next day had disappeared again. In summer, swifts constantly fly about over the nearby roofs.
Our backgreen has several problems from the point of view of the Big Garden Birdwatch:
a) we can't see the area from our flat
b) there's no pleasant sitting area in the backgreen
c) there's no part of the backgreen that has unrestricted views over the whole of the area
d) one of the neighbours who lives in one of the blocks that also uses the backgreen has a habit of coming out into his (very poorly looked after) garden whenever I appear and standing there, with his fierce dog, until I leave. This is off putting (to say the least!)
But if like me you don't really have a garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch, you can still join in. Just go along to your local park and record the birds you see there. It's fun, good exercise and you'll be helping the RSPB to keep up to date records of birds in the UK.
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