Birds don’t come here any more

We stand at the window. Watching. Waiting. It’s been the same story for around 20 years, taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Every year, on the last weekend in January, faithfully recording the birds that visit our garden. Our findings, and the records of tens of thousands of other participants up and down the country, are combined by the boffins at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They use the data to work out which species are doing well and which are doing badly, and then look for the reasons why. It’s said to be one of the largest “citizen science” exercises in the world, and it’s always been a pleasure to be part of it.

Robin: MISSING from our garden during the 2020 Birdwatch

But this year it’s different. You see, birds don’t come here any more.

Of course, birds have never flocked to our garden in large numbers. We live on a suburban estate, several hundred metres from open country. Our garden is small, although a well-stocked bird table and a bird bath are provided to attract visitors, and several large bushes offer them security and shelter.

Despite the limitations of our garden, in the past we have logged a number of species during the allotted Birdwatch hour. They include house sparrow, dunnock, blackbird, robin, wren, starling, magpie, blue tit and woodpigeon. One year – our very own annus mirabilis – a grey wagtail dropped in to say hi.

Male blackbird: the ONLY BIRD SEEN in our garden during the 2020 Birdwatch

This year, in two full days of monitoring the garden, we see just one bird! A solitary male blackbird comes to the bird table a couple of times, but doesn’t stay long. Other than him, our garden is an avian desert throughout the entire Birdwatch weekend.

I am reminded of the seminal 1962 book, Silent Spring, in which Rachel Carson wrote of the impact of the indiscriminate use of pesticides – in particular DDT – on bird numbers in the US. I don’t know what impact – if any – pesticides in the local environment may have had on the disappearance of birds from our garden. There are a number of other possible culprits also in the frame, including habitat loss, new agricultural practices, environmental pollution and human-generated climate change.

Woodpigeon: MISSING from our garden during the 2020 Birdwatch

Yes, it’s complex, but there’s no excuse for inaction. Carson was writing nearly 50 years ago and society is now much better placed to understand the environmental impact of its actions. Yet the birds continue to disappear, from our back garden and from towns and countryside throughout the UK.

It cannot – must not – be allowed to continue.

The solutions will not be simple. That much is certain. Also certain is the fact that we – humans – are at the root of this. If we are the problem then we must also become the solution. The clock is ticking, the birds are dying.

Rachel Carson put it like this:

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

Rachel Carson: Silent Spring

In January 2021 the RSPB will doubtless run another Big Garden Birdwatch, but I don’t know if we’ll take part again. You see, birds don’t come here any more.

When will we see you again? Blue tit, MISSING from our garden during the 2020 Birdwatch


  1. tanjabrittonwriter · February 5, 2020

    This is so sad. Rachel Carson’s pronouncement still rings far too true today, possibly even more true than we she wrote it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · February 6, 2020

      In your own blog earlier this week you wrote about a remarkable lady. Rachel Carson was also remarkable, wasn’t she. I’ve forgotten so much of what I learned at school (what IS a logarithm, and what’s the point of one anyway? 🙂) but I’ve never forgotten learning from RC’s book / ideas in the early 1970s. Sad that more people haven’t taken heed of her warnings, both in a literal and metaphorical, in Silent Spring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · February 6, 2020

        We need to listen and change our way of life, if we want to survive, and want any other creatures to survive.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. T Ibara Photo · February 6, 2020

    Hello Mr. Platypus Man,
    This is so heartbreaking. And I agree with Tanja’s comment.
    As you say, there is no excuse for lack of actions. And I do believe many “normal folk” like us do our very best to take action every day. What makes is frustrating is there is only so much we can do as individuals, and those who seem to have the power to make changes don’t seem keen on taking action…
    Still, trying to keep hope and do our part.
    Always our best wishes to you and Mrs. P,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · February 6, 2020

      Hi Takami
      You are absolutely right. As individuals we can’t change the world, but be can all try to be the best we can be, and if enough people did that we WOULD achieve the changes that are needed.
      Best wishes to you and your husband from Mr and Mrs P!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. nationalparkswitht · February 6, 2020

    😞 so sad. We used to have a mallard pair return to our pond for a few months each spring. We haven’t seen them in 5 years

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · February 6, 2020

      It’s heart-breaking, isn’t it, some of the things that are happening. We’ve lost so much. But we must stay strong, do our bit, try to get across the messages that might convince others to do the right thing for the world around us.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. shazza · March 19, 2020

    Thanks for directing me to your blog. I hope you still take part , hopefully you will be surprised next year. My fingers are crossed…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 20, 2020

      Yes, I expect we will take part again next year, despite my petulant post a few weeks ago. After all, things can’t get much worse and so will almost certainly get better. As you say, fingers crossed …


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