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Goldfinches use British gardens regularly, but are they early risers? Photo: Karelj (
Goldfinches use British gardens regularly, but are they early risers? Photo: Karelj ( image

Bird survey for early risers

Posted on: 03 Jan 2014

Members of the public are being asked by the BTO to get up early next Thursday and count the birds on their feeders.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) needs your help on 9 January as part of a study – dubbed the Early Bird Survey – to find out whether light pollution affects the feeding behaviour of garden birds on winter mornings.

The long, cold winter nights 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. Around half of 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 9 January.

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

To find out more about the BTO Early Bird Survey or to download the instructions on how to take part, visit

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