Bird count in May – A citizen science project

Every year on the second weekend in May it is time for the Germany-wide bird count - a citizen science project dedicated to birds (German: "Stunde der Gartenvögel"). The citizen science project is organized by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union NABU (German: "Naturschutzbund Deutschland") and asks every citizen to count birds in a garden, park or on a balcony. Of course, I participated this year and tell you more about which birds I found this year and how you can participate.

Twice a year the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union NABU and its collaborator LBV (German: "Landesbund für Vogelschutz") ask all citizens in Germany to count birds for one hour in a garden, on a balcony or anywhere else like in a park. In winter the Germany-wide citizen science project is known under the name "Stunde der Wintervögel" and takes place in January. The spring version "Stunde der Gartenvögel" is held in May.

In 2020 the citizen science project "Stunde der Gartenvögel" took place from the 8th to the 10th of May for the 16th time. According to the NABU almost 160.000 people participated.

It is easy to participate. You just need an hour in order to note down all the birds you see and/or hear around you. You can also write down all the birds that just pass by. And it doesn't matter whether on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. You just have to follow the rule how to count the birds in order to avoid double counts. That means, if you decide to participate, please consider only the highest number of birds you see (or hear) of a species in one place at the same time.

Example: If you see two blackbirds at one place at the same time and later you spot three blackbirds, you should note down the number three for blackbirds (and not five). You always need to record the highest number of a bird species you see at the same time at one place! The NABU provides a form on its website which might help you to count the birds.

bird count

You can submit your bird count on the website of the NABU or LBV via an online form (not active at the moment). There is also the NABU app which you can use for submitting your bird count. The fastest and easiest way to communicate your data to the organizers is via the online form and the NABU app. However, there is also a paper version of the online form, which you can send by mail to the NABU. Another way is by phone. But just on Saturday, as only few nature observers consider this option. You will find more information about how to submit bird counts on the website of the NABU.

Important: Remember that there is a deadline to submit a bird count. In 2020 it was the 18th of May. All other observations afterwards were not considered.

Results of the bird count

The house sparrow was the most common bird of the citizen science project "Stunde der Gartenvögel" in 2020 followed by the Eurasian blackbird and the great tit. Compared to the previous year numbers of all three bird species decreased Germany-wide (house sparrow: -5%, Eurasian blackbirds: -2%, great tit: -14%). However, the rank order have not changed since 2006. Meaning, for 14 years the first three ranks are occupied by these three bird species. Thus, house sparrows, Eurasian blackbirds, and great tits seem to be the most common birds in Germany's gardens and parks.

As mentioned above, almost 160.000 people participated in this citizen science project on that weekend. It was a new record. In 2019 only about 76.000 participants counted birds in their surroundings. How did it come to such a great interest in birds this year? Was it because of the coronavirus pandemic which led to an increasing interest in nature at home? Or was it because of the mass die-off of blue tits this spring? Or is there another explanation?

blue tit

Information: Blue tits were in the center of attention this year during that weekend, because numerous blue tits have died in spring in 2020. The pathogen - Suttonella ornithocola - which was responsible for the mass die-off is now known. You will find more informationen about this topic on the website of the NABU.

I only can guess why so many people participated in this citizen science project this year. Nevertheless, by all means I'm happy to know that the NABU and the LBV could motivate so many people for birds this year.

Observations in the Tiergarten of Berlin

For the winter version of this citizen science project I already went to the Tiergarten of Berlin. There I knew a small bird house where I had already seen several bird species close-by.

The bird house is located not far away from the Siegessäule. However, on that day in May there was no food for the birds in the bird house.

bird count
bird count

Although there was no food in the bird house, I saw an Eurasian red squirrel scrabbling around just below. I had seen this Eurasian red squirrel close to this bird house on several other days. Maybe it lives anywhere around this bird house?

Eurasian red squirrel

At the same spot I observed a great spotted woodpecker.

great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpeckers reached rank number 18 Germany-wide during the bird count. The number decreased by 8% compared to the previous year. In Berlin the number of great spotted woodpeckers decreased by 7%, but the bird species gained rank number 16.

Tip: On the website of the NABU you can find a list of all bird species which were observed in Germany during the course of the bird count. It is possible to check the list by state. This way you might find out some interesting observations.

I stayed close to the bird house for one hour and waited for the birds to fly or waddle past.

Apropos waddle. Most of the time I was searching for the birds anywhere in the trees. However, with respect to some Canada geese I did not have to search in the trees. I did not have to search them at all, as they were quite noisy. I had seen two of them before on my way to the bird house. Were they the same birds or two other individuals? As I did not know, I had to count only two Canada geese for the bird count in that moment.

Canada goose in Berlin
Canada geese in Berlin

However, later I saw them again together with another pair of Canada geese. Thus, at the end I could note down not only two, but four Canada geese.

Compared to 2019, fewer Canada geese were observed during the bird count (Germany: rank number 71, -13%; Berlin: rank number 70, -65% in Berlin).

Interesting: Canada geese are originally from North America. As far as I know the origin of Canada geese in Germany is not completely clear. Probably they had escaped from captivity in zoos or animals parks.

Close to the bird house I encountered an European robin with food in its beak.

European robin in Berlin

European robins came to rank number 12 both Germany-wide and in Berlin. However, when compared to 2019, numbers of European robins decreased by 14% all over Germany and in Berlin even by 18%. Do these numbers represent an actual decline of these birds and will this trend continue?

Numbers of common chaffinches also seem to drop. Germany-wide 21% fewer observations were submitted to the bird count, but still they reached rank number 13. In Berlin common chaffinches reached only rank number 20, although their observations have decreased only by 4%.

I even spotted a female and male common chaffinch together on a tree trunk. Unfortunately, I was too slow to get a good photograph of them.

bird count

Nevertheless, I stayed close to the bird house, but also moved to some more spots close-by.

bird count

In the river I saw a Eurasian coot (Germany: rank number 63, +2%; Berlin: rank number 38, +1%) and some mallards (Germany: rank number 31, -9%; Berlin: rank number 19, -17%)

bird count
mallards in Berlin

Of course, I also saw the most common birds in Germany. House sparrow, Eurasian blackbird, and great tit. However, these birds are seemingly not the most common birds in Berlin. In Berlin most counted birds were house sparrow, starling, and common swift. Eurasian blackbirds came to rank number 4 and great tits to rank number 5.

house sparrow in Berlin
Eurasian blackbird in Berlin
bird count

I was especially curious about the blue tits. Would I observe a sick blue tit? Or would I observe at all a blue tit?

As I had observed only healthy blue tits in the weeks before, I did not expect to spot any sick bird. As far as I know the blue tit population in Berlin was not affected by the bacteria so far.

Nevertheless, I indeed encountered blue tits during that hour. Meaning, I saw a blue tit several times, but I could not tell if it was the same individual or not. Thus, I only could note down one blue tit for the bird count. Luckily, I did not spot any sick individual.

blue tit in Berlin

Germany-wide blue tits reached rank number 6, but the number of counts dropped by 25% when compared to 2019. In Berlin the same. The number of blue tit counts decreased by 25%, but they still reached rank number 8 in the capital. Is there a connection between this bacteria and the observed decline?

I do not dare to answer this question, but I will wait for more information or observations, respectively...

blue tit in Berlin

Information: According to the NABU, numbers of blue tits that were found sick or dead had decreased since the end of April. Please check the website of the NABU to get most recent news about the situation of the blue tits (see link below).

In some moments the birds were flying past so fast that I could not take a photograph of them. For example, I could not photograph a great tit on that day. And in other moments I only could hear but not see a bird like in the case of a common chiffchaff. I listened to the common chiffchaff, but I could not spot the bird anywhere in the tree.

Another bird I just could hear was a song thrush. As its name suggests, song thrushes sing a lot. They not only sing a lot, they even sing very beautifully.

However, I could not spot this song thrush neither. Only at another spot close-by I could detect one song thrush hidden under a bush. Was it the same song thrush? I didn't know. Thus, I only noted down one individual.

song thrush in Berlin

Compared to the previous year numbers of song thrush counts decreased only slightly (Germany: rank number 36, -6%; Berlin: rank number 34, -6%).

Another bird that sings very beautifully is the Eurasian blackcap. In general, I hear Eurasian blackcaps quite often in the parks of Berlin. Thus, these birds reached rank number 21 in Berlin and when compared to 2019 the number of their counts increased by 7%. Germany-wide Eurasian blackcaps reached rank number 27 and their counts increased by 1%.

bird count
bird count

This year I observed quite many wild rabbits in the Tiergarten.

Usually, they stopped feeding when they saw me or ran away immediately. Indeed, these wild rabbits have to be very careful, as they are not that popular...

wild rabbits in Berlin

Information: There are some places in the Tiergarten that are protected from these wild rabbits like, for example, the Luiseninsel. In order to protect the Luiseninsel they built a fence around it, as the wild rabbits would destroy the plants. Every visitor of the Luiseninsel has to close the door of the fence in order to keep the wild rabbits outside.

On a meadow I saw some hooded crows foraging. I was looking around to spot some starlings. However, on that day I could not spot any of them on that meadow.

Hooded crows are quite common in Berlin. I see them very often in many different places in the city. As they are so common, sometimes I even oversee them. But still I'm a little bit surprised that hooded crows reached rank number 7. I would have expected an even higher rank. When compared to the previous year, their counts even decreased. But only by 5%.

hooded crows in Berlin

Germany-wide, hooded crows came to rank number 35, but their counts increased by 1%.

At the end of my observation hour I spotted a Eurasian nuthatch (Germany: rank number 26, -12%; Berlin: rank number 24, -18%). I heard Eurasian nuthatches here and there on that day. But only at the end I saw two of them at the same time. One Eurasian nuthatch on the left and the other on the right site.

Eurasian nuthatch in Berlin
bird count

It is great to know that so many people have participated in the bird count. Maybe the trend continues to the next year? I hope so. Because the more people participate, the more informative are the observations...

Missed the bird count? Have you missed the citizen science project "Stunde der Gartenvögel"? If you have missed it, remember that you can participate next year. The bird count in winter "Stunde der Wintervögel" will take place from the 8th to the 10th of January and "Stunde der Gartenvögel" from the 14th to the 16th of May in 2021.

More information and resources

Official website of the citizen science project "Stunde der Gartenvögel"

Official website of the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel"

Form to submit your bird count (only active during the bird count)

Report sick blue tits

Overview about the mass die-off

Have you participated in the bird count "Stunde der Gartenvögel"? Which birds have you seen? Please let me know in the comments.

bird count
bird count

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