Big Schools’ Birdwatch begins on January 5

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
On the look-out: Primary school children take part in the Big Schools' Birdwatch (image: David McHugh/RSPB images)

The humble woodpigeon knocked the blackbird off top spot in the last Big Schools’ Birdwatch – but which species will be the "most spotted" this time around?

School children are filling up bird-feeders, turning classrooms into bird hides and creating wildlife-friendly bakes as they prepare for the annual Big Schools’ Birdwatch.

Run by the RSPB, the Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of the spring term 2022 – January 5 to February 21 – and is a chance for children to participate in a UK-wide citizen science project, generating data for use in real research.

The birdwatch involves children watching and counting the birds that visit their outdoor space before then sending the results to the RSPB. By taking part, children are also helping to build an annual snapshot of how our bird-life is doing across the UK.

The event has been running now for two decades, during which time more than 70 different species have been recorded in school grounds, giving the RSPB vital insights into the health of the bird population.

Earlier this year, the woodpigeon claimed the number one spot in the Big School Birdwatch rankings with an average of 9.3 per school. The blackbird, 2020’s number one spotted bird, dropped to second place in 2021 (8.1 per school) with the house sparrow in third (7.1 per school).

Competition: The woodpigeon (top) came out on top in the 2021 Big Schools' Birdwatch, knocking the blackbird into second place with the house sparrow (above) in third. Images: Chris Gomersall/RSPB images (top); Ray Kennedy/RSPB images (above).

The top 10 birds from 2021 are as follows (the figures represent the average number of each bird spotted per school and the percentage of schools where the species was recorded).

  1. Woodpigeon: 9.3, 80%
  2. Blackbird: 8.1, 84.7%
  3. House sparrow: 7.1, 65.9%
  4. Starling: 6.0, 48.8%
  5. Magpie: 5.169.3%
  6. Carrion crow: 4.6, 51.5%
  7. Robin: 4.6, 79.6%
  8. Blue tit: 4.3, 65.2%
  9. Black-headed gull: 3.5, 32.0%
  10. Feral pigeon: 3.4, 33.8%

The Big Schools Birdwatch is a free activity. Teachers are sent a pack to support delivery and schools can pick any day during the first half of the spring term to take part, with the flexibility to run it as a one off event, a cross-curricular project or enrichment activity.

The teachers’ pack includes bird fact files, survey sheets, and advice on how to get the most out of the birdwatch. Many schools prepare for the event by putting up feeders and nestboxes and making bird cake.

The Big Schools' Birdwatch is the school version of the Big Garden Birdwatch – the world's largest garden wildlife survey, which will take place on January 28-30, 2022.

Rachael White, the RSPB's Big Schools’ Birdwatch co-ordinator, said: “For more than 20 years, Big Schools’ Birdwatch has provided children an opportunity to contribute to a UK-wide citizen science project which can deliver valuable curriculum learning. The birdwatch is a great way to monitor the impact of nature friendly changes in school grounds too. Has the wildlife-friendly planting increased the numbers of birds you see? It’s easy for teachers to deliver and does not require lengthy planning and preparation time.”

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