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Helping our garden birds through a tough winter

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David Gregory | 14:55 UK time, Monday, 21 January 2013

Male black cap. Picture from BTO and Nick Stacey

Wild birds have come to rely on us in a harsh winter. Putting out food and water is absolutely vital for their survival. But it also gives us a chance to see all sorts of wild birds up close.

These close encounters are also useful for conservationists and researchers. If we tell them what birds we can see in our gardens then they can learn much more about the UK's wild bird species and how they are doing.

At the moment there are three different surveys running which you can help with. If you're stuck indoors thanks to snow it might provide a bit of distraction for the kids as well!

First the University of Birmingham would like to learn more about how much we feed our garden birds. This is a link to their online survey. But if you prefer you can also email the project direct at feedingwildlife@gmail.com for a paper form to fill in. It's a simple survey that should only take you five minutes or so.

January is also when the British Trust for Ornithology are running a survey of black caps. These are birds we usually see in the summer but at this time of year they should have migrated south to Spain and North Africa. But more and more black caps are being spotted in winter in the UK making use of our well stocked bird feeders.

The BTO would like to learn more about this apparent change in behaviour and you can find their survey at this link. To help with identification that's a male black cap at the top of this post. This survey will take a bit more effort than the other research listed here, but the answers you will help provide will be fascinating.

Finally this weekend (26-27th Jan) is the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch. All the RSPB ask is for you to spend an hour watching the birds in your garden and making a note of what you see. You can find more details and pre-register to send your results in on their website here.

So that's three surveys where you can make a real difference to what we know about the birds we see in our garden. Feeding the birds this winter won't just help them survive, it will also help us learn much more about them and so protect their future as well.

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