THOUSANDS of people across Scotland have been watching and count their garden birds for this year’s RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

The world’s largest garden wildlife survey, now in its 38th year, invites the public to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local public space, so the conservation organisation can compile the results into a national picture of species distribution.

"In our increasingly urban world, ensuring there is still room for wildlife is key to the survival of many familiar species," said the RSPB. "Big Garden Birdwatch provides valuable information about the birds using our gardens in winter, enabling RSPB Scotland to examine trends and declines in their numbers. It is also a chance to take time to enjoy the nature on our doorsteps."

More than 36,000 people across Scotland took part last year and counted 626,335 birds. In response to demand, for the first time this year the Birdwatch took place over three days, including a Monday, giving workers the opportunity to take a screen break and participate from their office gardens.

Species Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland, Keith Morton, said: “It’s great to have so many people across Scotland taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch each year. Your results provide us with a snapshot of not only how birds are faring this year but also, with over 30 years’ worth of data, help us see changes in bird numbers over the long-term.

"Your results also paint a picture of the birds that are visiting Scotland at this time of year and how conditions overseas can have an impact on what we see here. However many or few birds you see during your Birdwatch hour, all your survey information is valuable so please do submit your counts.”

Last year house sparrows retained the top spot position, with chaffinches and starlings rounding off the top three. The milder winter temperatures in the run up to Birdwatch 2016 benefitted smaller birds such as long-tailed tits, coal tits and great tits. The percentage of participants’ gardens in Scotland that were visited by a long-tailed tit saw a massive 166% increase, with over a third of gardens of those taking part recording one.

However, across the UK, song thrush numbers in gardens continued to fall, with a decline of 70% since Birdwatch began.

This year, particularly if there is another cold snap, there could be some more unusual birds appearing in Scottish gardens. Look out for Scandinavian visitors such as redwings, fieldfares and waxwings in search of berries. While redwings and fieldfares come to the UK every winter, waxwings come in large numbers only in some years when food supplies are scarce in Scandinavia. Waxwings arrived on the east coast in their hundreds earlier this winter and have since dispersed more widely – having now been reported as far west as Wales and Ireland.

As well as counting winged garden visitors, RSPB Scotland has asked participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year, such as foxes, stoats and moles. However, it is unlikely that this other wildlife will be seen at the moment, especially as hedgehogs and slow worms are currently hibernating.

Mr Morton added: “Wildlife across Scotland is having a really tough time. Last year’s survey showed that only 19% of people see hedgehogs in their gardens at least once a month in Scotland, 14% fewer than in 2015. We’re including this part of the survey every year now as it helps us monitor how our other wildlife is doing.”

Mammal surveys co-ordinator for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, David Wembridge, said: “Mammals are a less showy lot than birds, but their presence in gardens is as important a measure of the natural value of these green spaces. Recording wildlife, in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch, gives us a connection to our wild neighbours, particularly those we might overlook.”

Dr Fiona Mathews, chair of The Mammal Society, said: “Gardens can offer fantastic habitat for wild mammals, simply leave things a bit untidy and watch what happens. For example, a bramble patch and a pile of fallen leaves can provide a good nesting site for hedgehogs, while bats will feed on night-flying insects attracted to blackberry flowers.”