Frequently asked questions
There is a separate section for questions about the online system here.
What do I do if I'm not sure of the identification of a bird?
You should only record birds if you are sure of the species. Don't worry about recording rarer garden visitors if you aren't sure of the species, or if you haven't seen or heard enough to be sure of the ID. To take part in GBW you should be able to identify your common garden visitors; if you need to brush up on bird ID, take a look at the BTO guidance on bird ID or our Garden Birds and other wildlife book.
Why can I only record certain groups of other wildlife?
Unfortunately, we have to be selective about which species that we include in our Garden BirdWatch counts. The main aim of GBW is to pick up large-scale patterns in commonly recorded species, not to act as a repository for all observations, and we have taken the decision that the groups we record are the vertebrates (mammals, reptiles and amphibians as well as birds), and butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees among insects. We work in partnership with other organisations to share records of the groups we record under GBW, where appropriate.
If you see species that don't appear on the Garden BirdWatch list (e.g. any other bees, moths, wasps, ladybirds etc.), you can record them via iRecord. Alternatively, if you are particularly interested in a partcular group, you could visit the national recording scheme for that group:
- BWARS: Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society
- National Moth Recording Scheme
- UK Beetle Recording (including the UK Ladybird Survey)
- Grasshoppers and related insects
- Flies (including Bee-flies and Hoverflies)
Can I record species I see using camera traps?
No. You should only record species seen during your normal weekly recording time. This keeps the method consistent. This means that currently, if you use camera traps (also known as remote cameras or trail cams) to photograph the species that are using your garden at night, these can't be included in your weekly Garden BirdWatch count. However, we are looking into possible ways of doing this so please watch this space.
Do I have to feed my birds to take part in Garden BirdWatch?
No. Most people record their birds at feeders, but you do not have to provide food. We are interested in receiving observations from all kinds of gardens, including both those where food is provided and where food is not provided. Because we keep a record of the food being provided on a weekly basis, we can look at how the provision of food can influence the birds that appear.
What should I do if if I have to stop feeding the birds in my garden?
If you have to stop feeding the birds in your garden for a particular reason, such as you have found rats in your garden or you have found diseased birds, please continue to do your weekly counts if you can. Simply make sure your records of food reflect this change.
What should I do if I go away on holiday?
It's fine to not send in a list for any weeks you are not able to. If you record on paper forms, simply leave blank the weeks on the paper recording form for when you are away.
What shall I do if I find sick or diseased wildlife in my garden?
You can report any sick or diseased wildlife directly to Garden Wildlife Health via the GBW online recording form. If you don't submit your GBW data online, or don't want to wait till the end of the week to submit your record (e.g. if you have found a dead bird), you can report it directly to Garden Wildlife Health using your normal GBW username and password.
You should follow our good practice guidelines when feeding garden birds, especially if you have ever seen signs of disease.
Should I record birds in flight?
We are interested in birds that are using the resources that your garden provides, so birds seen in flight above your garden should not be recorded. There are some instances when a bird seen in flight will be using your garden and one of the best examples of this is when low-flying Swifts, Swallows and House Martins are hawking for insects. Often this happens in the evening or on a dull day, times when aerial insects are low to the ground.
One way that you can record sightings of birds that are just flying over and are not using your garden or are in neighbouring land that isn't in your garden recording area is via Bird Track. Please click here for more information.
What do I do if I find a rare bird in my garden?
If you are lucky enough to find a rare bird in your garden, please let your county bird recorder know. A list of county bird recorders can be found here.
Do I need to do anything if I move house?
Yes, please contact us at gbw [at] bto.org or speak to your supporter team on 01842 750050 to provide your new address details. This is really important, as you will need a new site number so your sightings are recorded against the correct address. You will still be able to see the records from your old address but you will not be able to record against them or make any changes.
What do the terms 'average counts' and 'reporting rate' mean?
We refer to both of these terms regularly in our various communications. Here is an explanation of what they mean:
- Average counts: participants record the maximum number of individuals seen at any one time in their gardens. We then average these counts across all sites to calculate the average maximum weekly count.
- The 'reporting rate' is a simple way of expressing how a species makes use of gardens. It is calculated by dividing the number of gardens (sites) at which the species was recorded by the number of gardens submitting counts.
Why is there a charge for Garden BirdWatch?
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we allowed people to participate for free, to bring people together and support well-being. This was really well received, and although allowing free participants means we lose a source of income, we wanted to keep the survey accessible to everyone. Therefore, we now offer a free and paid option, with the hope that those who are able to financially contribute via donations or a paid subscription will do so.
Running a national project like Garden BirdWatch costs money, and as a charity the BTO needs to raise money to cover the running of the project and the research using the data. We have received some support through commercial sponsorship in the past (but not enough to cover all the running costs) and sponsorship tends to be short-term, while the key to long-term monitoring is long-term financial support. It is the generosity of our supporters that makes this work possible. We keep the annual subscription as low as we can, work hard to keep the running costs down, and use the money that you give to find out what is happening to our birds and other wildlife. Paid supporters of GBW are supporting research that underpins and informs policy and conservation efforts.
How can I make sure my paper form goes through the scanner?
Over 5% of the completed count forms we receive each quarter do not pass through the scanner first time. You can help to ensure that your forms go through first time by following these simple guidelines. 1. Check that you have marked the correct season and year. 2. Only mark one box on each line. 3. Don't use a pen that bleeds through to the other side of the form. 4. Only fold forms once, along the perforated line. 5. Do not write any notes on the form, use a Post-it note, stuck to the front of the form, to record any notes or errors that need attention.
There is a separate section for questions about the online system here.
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