The early bird catches the worm

01 Jan 2014 | No. 2013-58

Do you feed your garden birds? Are you willing to get up early in the name of science? If so, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) needs your help on 9th January to determine whether light pollution affects the feeding behaviour of our garden birds on winter mornings.

A long, cold winter’s night can be a precarious time for a small garden bird. They can lose a significant proportion of their body weight trying to keep warm and therefore need to ‘refuel’ as soon as possible the next morning in order to replenish lost energy reserves. This can be seen in a peak of feeding early in the morning by a wide range of species.

This peak is especially evident in our gardens, which provide winter havens for our birds. Around half of all British householders are thought to feed their birds, providing an important resource when food is scarce in the wider countryside. This reliable resource gives us a chance to understand how the nature of the surrounding habitat can affect the feeding behaviour of birds.

In 2004, the BTO’s Shortest Day Survey revealed that urban birds could afford to get up later than their rural counterparts due to increased temperatures in towns and cities. However, in studies elsewhere in the world, light pollution has been shown to have an important effect on the behaviour of birds. The BTO wants to investigate this relationship through the 'Early Bird Survey', which will run Thursday 9th January 2014.

Clare Simm from the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team said "Our 2004 survey attracted somewhere in the region of 6,000 people, all willing to get up before dawn and record the activity in their gardens. If you can identify common garden birds and are willing to get up a little earlier than usual on 9th January then please take part. By contributing to this survey, you’ll be contributing to important research that can help us understand the effect that urbanisation is having on our birds."

Clare added, "They say that the early bird catches the worm but for this survey we need early birdwatchers to help us!"

To find out more about the BTO Early Bird Survey or to download the instructions on how to take part, visit If you have any queries, please contact the Garden Ecology team by phone 01842 750050 or email gbw [at]

Notes for Editors

  1. The Shortest Day Survey took place in 2004 with the aim of determining whether there was a pattern to the time at which different bird species arrived at garden feeders on a winter’s morning, and to see if there was a link with the nature of the surrounding habitat. Some 5,800 responses were received and two scientific papers were produced from the results. Find out more here
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO Early Bird Survey Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2013-58

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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