Big Garden Birdwatch 2021: Here’s Why The Care Sector Should Get Involved

With the UK entering its third national lockdown, and care homes being amongst the hardest hit part of society, it is always getting trickier to find new ways to boost morale and keep residents motivated and upbeat.

This year’s Birdwatch is coming up on January 29th-31st, and it encompasses a fun yet simple activity that can be used to uplift the mood of residents of the care sector, who are undergoing both tremendous isolation from their loved ones, and also may be living with and processing the grief caused by losing fellow residents due to coronavirus.

Each year thousands of people across the UK participate in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch – an initiative where the public is invited to spend one hour watching and making note of which birds appear in their garden, outside their window, or in their local park, and then send their results to the RSPB. These results are used to create an updated set of data that reveals insight into bird numbers across the UK.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is a fantastic opportunity – with almost half a million people getting involved in the Birdwatch every year, participants can feel connected by the shared experience of contributing to a nationwide project, during a time where residents are particularly isolated and experiencing long-term separation from their loved ones.

Also, engaging with nature through a structured activity, as well as the sensory stimulation of sights and sounds, can help maintain physical and mental wellbeing, particularly for those living with dementia.

The RSPB’s chief executive Beccy Speight said: “We know that for many people, garden birds provide an important connection to the wider world and bring enormous joy. Lockdown brought few benefits, but the last year has either started or reignited a love of nature for many people. There has been a broad and much-needed realisation that nature is an important and necessary part of our lives especially for our mental health and wellbeing. But nature needs us too.”

What are the benefits of the care sector participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch?

Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and Director of Ark Wildlife Ltd, has supplied bird feed to many care homes and shared countless enriching bird experiences with the residents there, including those who are blind and deaf. Such great pleasure can be brought to residents when they are encouraged to interact with the nature and wildlife around them.

There are a wide range of benefits that accompany engagement with nature. An activity like birdwatching is perfect for residents of the care sector, particularly during lockdown, because it can be flexible depending on the needs of the individual or the carer. Whether this entails stepping outside to watch the birds, or observing them through a window, the act of appreciating surrounding wildlife keeps the mind stimulated, and can improve mood.

On the benefits of getting involved in the Birdwatch, Sean says:

“Remaining positive and keeping the mind stimulated whilst stuck inside is difficult, but there’s always room for learning more even in someone’s later years. Gazing out the window, or exploring the garden is a great way to engage the mind. Counting, recording, drawing, observing and identifying visiting birds are all valuable learning opportunities that are fun and engaging.”

“Spending time watching or walking in nature has been shown to benefit both mind and body, and this is as true for older people as well as young. Sitting quietly in fresh air or walking in open spaces calms the mind and body, it balances our physiology and promotes production of positive hormones. Slowing to the pace of nature and it’s natural rhythms is greatly beneficial by providing a sense of escape from the everyday routine, which is especially valuable during a lockdown when each day brings a lack of variation. Time spent in nature is never wasted.”

“Birds are very present in all our lives. Even those who say they ‘know nothing’ when asked, are surprised when questioned about common birds. Once minds are opened, people can often identify a dozen or more birds they didn’t realise they knew.”

How can you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch in a care setting?

The way you choose to take part in The Big Garden Birdwatch in your specific care home setting can be versatile depending on the circumstances and capabilities of the residents. Whether residents are relatively immobile or very active, the birdwatching activity can be adapted to suit their needs. For residents on bed rest, carers can create a comfortable indoor set up for birdwatching by putting a chair or bed near the window. For residents who are able to use a wheelchair, perhaps you can make the most of the outdoor care home grounds to enjoy the birds, and for those who are able to walk, birdwatching can be an opportunity to take part in light exercise through slow walks around the care home grounds.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that will make the Big Garden Birdwatch as much of a worthwhile experience as possible:

Be flexible. Although the official event asks the public to watch for one hour on a specific weekend, do not be afraid to do whatever suits the schedule of carers, nurses and residents.

Print out some visual prompts. Having images to hand of what birds to look out for (which can be found on an RSPB resource) will help those participating feel confident in spotting the correct creatures. This could be particularly helpful for those living with dementia as the colourful pictures may help recall memories.

Remain patient. When birdwatching, birds may not necessarily appear straight away so it is important to encourage residents to make the most of all the beautiful sights and sounds that can be experienced in nature, such as other animals or plants swaying in the wind.

Use your ears just as much as your eyes. The sound of birds calling or singing can be a powerful trigger for memory recall, and can also help relieve stress. If looking through a window from indoors makes it difficult to hear sounds, you could even try playing bird songs from a phone or laptop to elevate the experience for the residents.

Use sunflower seeds to attract more birds. Spreading sunflower seeds for birds (shells removed) out onto your outdoor space can have a big impact on the number and diversity of birds that are attracted to the area. So if there seems to be a lack of birds around, this tip could create a more exciting birdwatch experience!