The Big Birdwatch


The RSPB is inviting early years settings to join its Big Schools’ Birdwatch – here’s how you can get involved. 

This article originally appeared in the Alliance's Under 5 membership magazine.


Birdwatching is one of the easiest ways to explore nature with children in your setting. You don’t need any special equipment and just a small amount of outdoor space. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB’s) Big Schools’ Birdwatch is taking place this term and is open to all early years settings.

young girl watching for birdsThe national birdwatch has been held every year since 2002 and offers participants free resources including activity ideas and downloadable stories in return for taking part. This year the RSPB has introduced activites specifically designed for early years practitioners. The wildlife charity has also teamed up with CBeebies’ Twirlywoos to encourage younger children to join in with the event.

The birdwatch is taking place from 2 January to 23 February and is set to be the biggest ever wildlife survey in education settings. Anyone can join in: pre-schools, nurseries, childminders and playgroups, as well as schools. In 2017, 73,000 children helped the RSPB count more than 100,000 birds.

The RSPB is asking children to spend one hour watching and recording any birds that visit their outdoor space. Settings are asked to share their results with the RSPB so they can be analysed. This offers the charity an insight into which species are the most common and how the numbers are changing.

Early learning

Not only does the birdwatch help with the RSPB’s conservation work, but it also provides a fun activity for children. Birdwatching helps bring children closer to nature and could inspire an interest in wildlife. You can use the birdwatch as a platform for other related activities, exploring any interests children show in response.

Nicky Thomas, early years project officer at the RSPB, explains: “The Big Schools Birdwatch works well for the free-flow structure of early years settings making it easy for all children to access and participate during the hour and beyond.”

The RSPB has worked to ensure that the plan works with Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage to help support children’s ‘understanding the world’ journey. Nicky says: “They will be able to comment and ask questions about their familiar world, recognise similarities, differences, patterns and change in what they see and experience as well as showing care and concern for living things and the environment.”

Every setting that takes part will receive a personalised certificate, a wildlife poster and Twirlywoos stickers to share. Every early years setting that joins in will also be entered into a prize draw to win a visit from the Twirlywoos.

"Birdwatching helps bring children closer to nature and could inspire an interest in wildlife."

Providers can also download the “Lucky Duck” story from the RSPB website, which helps explain some of the differences between common birds. Nicky explains: “This story has been written to inspire children’s thinking and to provide a childcentred starting point that we hope will start a journey of engagement.”

By learning about birds, children will develop new skills – making links between their own needs and those of the birds that visit their outdoor space. Nicky says: “They will be finding out and exploring what is already welcoming birds to the setting and feel proud as they achieve what they set out to do by counting and identifying some familiar birds.” These skills will also help children make transferable experiences at home and other familiar places, wherever they see wild birds.

Adding extra activities will expand the learning opportunities. “Making these crumbly pastry maggots to feed the birds with is a great finger gym and fine motor skills activity,” Nicky suggests.

How to join in

The birdwatch should last for just one hour – you can pick any time of the day that suits. It could be offered as part of a wider project, or just as a oneoff.

It could even take place over an outdoor lunch break. The only restriction is that it must take place in the first half of this spring term.

Register to take part online at

You’ll find everything you need to take part including more suggested activites.

a young girl watches for birds with an adultMaking pastry maggots

Ingredients: 86g flour, 30g lard


  1. Put the flour in a bowl
  2. Mix in the lard with the tips of your fingers
  3. Rub the dry mixture into little pieces that look like maggots
  4. Sprinkle these onto the ground, on your birdtable or around bushes and flowerbeds


Paper plate birds

Equipment: paper plates, paint, paintbrushes, googly eyes, glue, pipe cleaners, pieces of card, paper


  1. Fold the plate in half and unfold it
  2. Paint the base colour – for example black for a blackbird or orange for a robin.
  3. Fold the plate again so it can stand up.
  4. Use the eyes, paper, pipecleaners and card to add a beak, wings and a tail

common uk birds

Look out for these common birds in the UK

Last year, the most commonly-seen bird was the blackbird, with 88% of education settings reporting seeing them.

  1. Blackbird – Black feathers with bright orange-yellow beaks and eye-rings.
  2. Starling – Look black from a distance but purples and greens can be seen up close.

    They tend to be smaller than blackbirds
  3. Woodpigeon – Grey with a white patch on its neck.
  4. Carrion crow – All black, including the beak and feet. These are usually seen alone or in pairs.
  5. Black headed gull – All white, or white with a chocolate-brown head.
  6. House sparrow – Speckled with blacks and browns, but the males will also have a strip of blue on their heads.
  7. Magpie – Distinctive black and white bird with a long tail – up close you might notice purple-blue hues on its feathers.
  8. Robin – Golden brown with a bright red vest.

    These are found all year round – not just at Christmas.
  9. Blue tit – Blue, yellow and white bird that often travels in groups. Younger birds will have yellow instead of white cheeks.
  10. Jack Daw – A small black crow with pale eyes and a slightly silver patch behind its head.



This article originally appeared in the Alliance's Under 5 membership magazine. Find out more about the magazine, request your free taster copy, or sign up to the newsletter mailing list here