December Back Garden Bird Race Results

, 27 December 2020
December Back Garden Bird Race Results
By Beverley Coombes

Results from the Eighteenth and final (for now) Back Garden Bird Race.

When we started the Back Garden Bird Race in April we had no idea that the race (or the pandemic) would last this long. I wouldn’t have believed that I’d still be sat under strict Covid restrictions eight months later with my binoculars and bird list. Yet at 10:00 today I pulled up my Bird Race chair for the eighteenth time, opened the door next to the Christmas tree and started writing down the birds I saw and heard. And then I was shouted at because I was “letting all the heat out”.

Me in hat

Me, letting all the heat out.

Elsewhere across Sussex Jill was ready with her hot chocolate and stollen while Clare was wearing her Christmas present “my new Bird Race t-shirt in the hope it will bring me luck but as usual at the stroke of 10 all the birds have disappeared!”. Others though were clearing up after Storm Bella tore through the county in the early hours of today leaving bird feeders, shed roofs and next door’s trampoline strewn across the lawn.

Despite birdwatching in Bella’s aftermath there were plenty of bird highlights for many.


(photos from Jane Willmott, Gemma Pratt, Simon Linington, Rosemary Duffin and Ryan Greaves)

Margaret saw a Redpoll (her first for two years) and Liz saw a beautiful Bullfinch (“only the second time I have seen one and that was on a previous Bird Race”). Bob noted Peregrine and Lesser Black-backed Gull over his Seaford garden. Over in his garden overlooking the Pett Levels Cliff was busy repairing the shed after the storm but also recorded some Back Garden Bird Race firsts – a Wigeon and, out to sea, a raft of 30 Common Scoter “rising & falling on the grey swell”.


Spot the scoter. Cliff's unfair advantage - a view over the Pett Levels and The English Channel.

For Colin and Janet in Steyning “the highlight of the morning was undoubtedly the Raven that flew over cronking, then returned to a fencepost up the hill where it treated us to its repertoire of atmospheric and inventive calls for much of the watch”. Margaret noted that "everything seemed to be pairing up -2 Red Kites swooping together, until joined by a third, buzzards, woodpeckers…Spring has come early!".

Mike in Herstmonceux wrote that "250+ Lapwing was today's long distance highlight".


Mike's distant Lapwing flock 

David in Slinfold and Daryl in Lancing both had two notable winter visitors to their gardens – a Brambling and Redwing. In Upper Beeding Georgie noted that with “one minute to go an appearance from the Robin saved us from equalling our lowest score ever. How delightfully festive”. But today's Bird Race winner was Bob over in the far east of the county where he also has the enviable advantage of a view down over the Romney Marshes. His score of 35 comprised of:

Blackbird, House Sparrow, Robin, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Green Woodpecker, Robin, Woodpigeon, Great Tit, Starling, Lapwing, Pheasant, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Mistle Thrush, Heron, Magpie, Pied Wagtail, Cormorant, Redshank, Common Gull, Goldfinch, Redwing, Teal, Great Black-backed Gull, Shelduck, Fieldfare, Mute Swan, Coal Tit, Little Egret.

Here are the final scores on the doors. 

BirdRace Dec

Beverley turned the seven species seen from her balcony into a Christmas Card

Beverley Coombes

...and Andy interpreted his bird list as a Mondrian style Venn Diagram based on a great piece of artwork available here.

Andy Dinsdale   

So there we have it! That's me done for 2020. I'd like to give another big thank you to Lois Mayhew of Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre who has assisted me with the scores since April. I'd like to also thank Andy Reynolds, Dave Kilbey, Richard Cobden and my Sussex Wildlife Trust colleagues for their Bird Race support.

And of course thank you to everyone who has taken part in the Back Garden Bird Race. We've received a lot of messages from people who have said that this event has helped them through the past eight months and given them something to look forward to. Helen wrote in from Peacehaven today to say

"Thank you for this last count of 2020 and for running it earlier in the year. It gave me such pleasure and helped me to retain a little sanity. In short, it has been a blessing".

Cliff Dean described all those nail biting Bird Race mornings perfectly:

"It's been the usual heady mix of anticipation, suspense, optimism, intense searching, surprise, exasperation, half-heard calls & half-seen birds too unconvincing to count, reluctant resorts to honesty, painful compression of those last minutes and then the routine Cruel Ironies of missing species reappearing immediately following Close of Play. Who would have thought that Sunday mornings could have been the setting for such drama - outside of The Archers?" 

We'll be back in 2021 with more wonderful wildlife to inspire and uplift you. Until then stay safe. In the meantime I'm going to act like this Wren (photographed today by Ryan Greaves) and tuck myself back under my nettle leaf just a little bit longer, until things are brighter...

Ryan 2

Leave a comment


  • Ginny-Vic:

    Thank you so much to Michael and Lois for all their time organising this and the many great online events organised by SWT to stop us all becoming lonely and helping us to find out new wildlife things. I found 2020 hard with all the lockdowns and can’t wait to be able to visit people and places but I spent many a happy time doing the bird race ironically with my tabby cat and these will be treasured memories of an otherwise very strange time. We also had great fun making ponds out of washing up bowls and although I was hoping for a few frogs, my cat loved the extra drinking bowls conveniently placed outside. We also have a pet hedgehog called Fluffy who we bought a house for and who seems to be sleeping well outside. I really enjoyed the hedgehog information booklet SWT sent me to help us keep Fluffy safe. Thanks so much for raising the spirits of the nation with 5e Bird Races and Butterfly blogs. I really hope one day I’ll be allowed to come and visit some of the beautiful places I’ve seen online in Sussex. That will be something to look forward to. Happy New Year!

    27 Dec 2020 18:10:00

  • Sophie Littlejohns:

    What a lovely summary of 2020 back garden bird watch 😊
    Sorry we didn’t take part but we have such a tiny garden and birds have vanished from the back since our neighbour ripped the hedge out and replaced it with a fence 😣
    We used to have a pair of collared doves that visited regularly for years… where have they gone? Are there many about?
    Heartening to see – just down the road in Bramber – 8 egrets roosting in a conifer a few weeks ago. What a sight! Owls hooting aroubd us at night, kingfishers are close by, we are so lucky but so many birds we used to see have been pushed out of gardens and into the fields where i hope they are safe.
    Happy New Year and thanks for all you do

    27 Dec 2020 23:03:00

  • Louise Spiers:

    I love reading all the comments and your excellent summaries. Best wishes for 2021.

    28 Dec 2020 08:36:00

  • Jane Roberts:

    Thank you for organising the Back Garden Bird Race. It was so nice to be able to report not only the birds seen in the garden but to be trusted to recognise the songs of those obviously there but not spotted. I only joined part the way through the year but have learnt a lot about the birds that visit the garden. Let’s hope 2021 will benefit from what we have learnt about our relationship with wildlife this year.

    28 Dec 2020 10:52:00

  • Margaret from Wales:

    Thank you so much for the organisation, encouragement and collating. It’s a great stress buster when the world looks grim. You’ve made me really concentrate on what to look for where and what to listen for.

    28 Dec 2020 11:41:00