Citizen Science: Counting birds in January

Every year in January the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union NABU (German: "Naturschutzbund Deutschland") appeals to all citizens to participate in the nationwide citizen science project: counting birds in winter (German: "Stunde der Wintervögel"). In January 2020 the citizen science project took place on the second weekend from the 10th to the 12th of January.

Which birds are most common in January in Germany? And which numbers of birds decrease? Why do some birds occur more and more often while others seem to become rarer? These are some of the questions the conservation organization NABU tries to find out and understand every year in January with its nationwide citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel". On the second weekend in January in 2020 the NABU and its collaborator LBV (German: "Landesbund für Vogelschutz") have realized now for the 10th time the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel" where all participants were asked to count all birds in their gardens or in nearby parks. Of course, I was one participant this year, because the more people that participate in this citizen science project, the more information we get about the distribution of different bird species in Germany. However, the citizen science project is not about getting exact population numbers of all birds in Germany. The Citizen Science project is more about figuring out if there is any positive or negative trend with respect to the distribution and numbers of bird species in Germany.

Last year house sparrows (Passer domesticus) were the most common birds in Germany followed by great tits (Parus major) and tree sparrows (Passer montanus). Is the house sparrow again the most common bird in 2020?

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Take part and count birds

It is not difficult to participate in this citizen science project. You just need an hour on that weekend in order to observe birds. Be it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. You can observe birds in your garden or inside anywhere at the window. You can also go to the next park in your city. But in any case, during this hour you need to note down all birds you have seen. There is only one point you need to consider when counting birds. You should notate only the highest number of individuals of a bird species you see at once. That means, if you observe two blue tits at the same time and later three, you should notate three (and not five) in order to avoid double count. Later you can submit your observations to the NABU, for example, through an online form.

Did you miss the citizen science project? If you have missed the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel" in 2020, you can participate in the next one in May which takes place from the 8th to the 10th of May. You can find more information about this bird count activity under the name "Stunde der Gartenvögel".

Results of the citizen science project

Similar to last year, the house sparrow was the most common bird close to settlement areas in 2020 followed by great tits, blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), tree sparrows and Eurasian blackbirds (Turdus merula). These are apparently the five most common birds in Germany at the moment.

In total, about 113.000 people participated in the citizen science project who collected data in about 77.000 gardens or parks, respectively. As more or less 2.9 million birds were counted, there were on average almost 38 birds per garden or park.

In general, out of the data from 10 years it can be observed that there are fewer birds in gardens or parks when winters are warm and with little snow. Therefore, one possible question here could be: Maybe birds find food elsewhere in warm winters and do not need so much food supply in settlement areas?

Nevertheless, if you want to get more information about all birds counted for this citizen science project, you can find a list about all bird species on the website of the NABU. On this website you can explore a map and ranking list with all birds that were spotted and submitted to the citizen science project on that weekend.

Analyzing results: You can explore the ranking list on the NABU website to find out interesting trends. For example, the number of Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) have increased by 101% while the number of common chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) decreased by 23% when compared to last year. If you take some time, you can find interesting results and speculate about why a bird species becomes more frequent or less common.

Observations in the Tiergarten in Berlin

As I do not have the possibility to observe birds in a garden, balcony or at a window (I would see just some magpies in our back yard), I decided to go to the Tiergarten in Berlin. The Tiergarten is a city park in the center of Berlin. I moved around a small area close to the Luiseninsel. Although the Tiergarten is located in the center of the city, I observed quite many birds.

In the following section I write more about the birds I have observed in the Tiergarten in Berlin on the weekend of the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel".

Citizen Science

I observed especially many great and blue tits, but also Eurasian nuthatches and blackbirds. In one moment I saw several wood pigeons resting at the top of a tree. I even had one special encounter with a common buzzard.

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Great spotted woodpecker

A great spotted woodpecker was one of the first birds I saw on that day in the Tiergarten. The bird moved from branch to branch above a high tree. I saw only one individual, but in the ranking list of the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel", the great spotted woodpecker reached the 14th position in the ranking list. In comparison to the previous year, the number of great spotted woodpeckers increased by 14%. Apparently, these birds were especially frequently seen in the South and East of Germany, but also in the West in the state Saarland.

Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Common chaffinch

Especially many common chaffinches were counted in the South and West of Germany this year. Nevertheless, I also observed some birds of this species in the Tiergarten on the day of my participation in the citizen science project. Common chaffinches reached position 7 in the nationwide ranking list. In Berlin, in contrast, these birds achieved only position 19. In general, the population decreased nationwide by 23%.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

Brambling

While I observe quite many common chaffinches in Berlin in spring and summer, I usually do not meet many bramblings. Therefore, I was especially happy to see a brambling in the Tiergarten. Bramblings came at position 31 in the ranking list when compared to the other birds. Apparently, especially many bramblings were observed in Hamburg (more than 1.200). In Berlin, only about 150 individuals were spotted and as sightings submitted to the citizen science project. Consequently, bramblings achieved only rank 34 in Berlin (nationwide: rank 31). Unfortunately, there seems to be a decrease of bramblings of about 54%.

Eurasian blackbird (Turdus merula)

Eurasian blackbird
Citizen Science

Eurasian blackbirds belong to the most common birds in German gardens and parks like sparrows (house sparrows and tree sparrows) and tits (great tits and blue tits). I observed comparatively many Eurasian blackbirds. Especially many male blackbirds flew from one tree or bush to another one. Some of them, including females, were digging around through leaves on the ground. I observed Eurasian blackbirds throughout the whole hour. When compared to the previous year, the number of blackbirds increased by 2% nationwide. However, in Berlin the population decreased by 21%. Nevertheless, Eurasian blackbirds reached both nationwide and in Berlin position number five in the ranking list.

Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

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Eurasian nuthatches were also quite common in the Tiergarten on the day of my visit. As I should count only the highest number of birds I see simultaneously, at the end, I came to only two Eurasian nuthatches. Within that hour, I could not observe more than two Eurasian nuthatches at once. Maybe there were more Eurasian nuthatches around? Or maybe not? These birds always moved very quickly up and down on tree trunks. One Eurasian nuthatch even visited the feeding site in the park. Nationwide, Eurasian nuthatches reached position 15 in the rankling list, but in Berlin only position 20. The number of Eurasian nuthatches in gardens and parks even decreased by 7% in Berlin. But why? Can we attribute this observation to the relatively mild winter? But in contrast, the number of Eurasian nuthatches increased by 21% throughout Germany. Interestingly, there were apparently more than twice as many Eurasian nuthatches in the neighboring state Brandenburg than in Berlin.

European robin (Erithacus rubecula)

European robin

I was especially interested to know the result about the number of European robins, as I have observed more and more European robins recently (even in winter) in parks of Berlin. However, the number of European robins increased only by 1% nationwide when compared to the previous year, but they still reached position 11 in the ranking list. Especially many European robins were observed in West Germany. In Berlin European robins also came at position 11, but in comparison to the previous year, its number decreased by 3%. Interestingly, more European robins were observed in Brandenburg than in Berlin (similar to Eurasian nuthatches).

Great tit (Parus major)

Great tit

As I saw so many Eurasian blackbirds and tits like Great tits, I expected to see Eurasian blackbirds or a tit species on the first position of the ranking list. In Berlin and in whole Germany, however, Great tits reached "only" the second position, although its number increased by 10% (in Berlin it decreased by 3%). But in general, Great tits seem to be quite common everywhere in Germany. Only in the state Schleswig-Holstein Great tits were comparatively less common.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blue tit

The blue tits I saw in that hour seemed to me quite busy on that day. They moved from branch to branch and from tree to tree. Blue tits reached the third position after the Great tit in the ranking list. Even in Berlin. However, its number decreased slightly by 1% in the city. Nationwide, in contrast, its number increased by 10%. In general, the number of blue tits per garden seems to be more or less similar in whole Germany. Only in cities like Hamburg or Berlin comparatively fewer blue tits were counted.

Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata)

Mandarin duck

As mandarin ducks are actually distributed in East Asia, I was especially curious about the result of these birds. Nationwide, mandarin ducks reached only position 83 in the ranking list, but the number of counted individuals increased by 104% (in Berlin the number decreased by 3%). Most mandarin ducks were counted in Brandenburg and Berlin, followed by Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. Some of them were even observed in Bavaria, however, comparatively, in only few gardens or parks, respectively. So far, mandarin ducks could be observed only very infrequently within the other states. Interestingly, are mandarin ducks about to extend their distribution from East to West Germany?

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard

Mallards are birds I probably often oversee, as they are so common. Although more mallards could be observed in Bavaria than in Berlin, the density of mallards seems to be especially high in Berlin. Although I frequently observe mallards, these birds reached only position 34 in the ranking list in Germany (position 18 in Berlin). However, the number of sightings submitted to the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel" increased by 13% both nationwide and in Germany, respectively.

Common raven (Corvus corax)

Common raven

Common ravens reached position 35 in the ranking list, but its number apparently increased by 26% in Germany. In Berlin common ravens rank on position 36. The number of common ravens decreased by 4% in the capital in comparison to the previous year.

Common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Citizen Science

At the end of that hour I observed some common wood pigeons flying to a tree. They stopped and rested on some branches. In the national ranking list common wood pigeons came at position 10. Its number increased by 12%. In Berlin, in contrast, common wood pigeons reached even position 6, but the number of counts increased only by 5%. Especially many common wood pigeons were observed in West Germany in the states North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.

Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Common buzzard

I was especially happy to have seen a common buzzard in the Tiergarten in Berlin. Although the number of sightings in Berlin increased by 20% in Berlin, common buzzards reached only the 43rd position in the ranking list. Nationwide the number of common buzzards increased even by 34% to rank on position 38. In total, only 118 common buzzards were spotted and submitted to the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel" on that weekend in Berlin. But most common buzzards were counted in the state North Rhine-Westphalia (more than 1.700).

More information and resources

Results of the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel on the official website of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) (results in German)

Summary of the results on the website of the NABU in January 2020 (in German)

Offical website of the Landesbunds für Vogelschutz in Bavaria (LBV) (in German)

Have you participated in the citizen science project "Stunde der Wintervögel"? If yes, which birds have you seen? Or are there any other citizen science projects where you have participated? Let me know in the comment area.

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Citizen Science

2 comments

  1. Thank you for your hard work. I love people like you who care about animals, because rarely anyone these days do.
    I read about the Naturblick project yesterday on this blog, and since there are many nightingales here in East Berlin where I live, I will gladly participate.
    Keep up the good work, this world needs more people like you.

    1. Thank you so much Edris for your kind words 🙂

      Yes, there are so many nightingales here in Berlin at the moment. It is a wonderful time of the year. The nightingales enrich our city life with their beautiful songs. Apparently the Citizen Science project “Foschungsfall Nachtigall” is only until June. I very hope they keep on with this project, as I think these kind of projects may help to bring people closer to nature.

      Thanks again for your words and have a good time with the nightingales! Enjoy 😉

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