Garden bird tables across Yorkshire are alive with both familiar and not so familiar species that have withdrawn from the snow-covered countryside to seek sanctuary in places where life-sustaining food is replenished overnight.

Some of my earliest and most vivid wildlife memories are of the amazing array of birds that my parents lured to our small suburban back-garden through diligent feeding.

The winter period was always the most exciting, as new and sometimes exotic species joined the regular tits, sparrows and finches that visited the well-stocked feeders that were scattered throughout the garden.

There was always a noticeable increase in bird activity during a cold snap, especially when a blanket of snow prevented many species from feeding in their usual haunts beyond our garden. It was not unusual to count upwards of 50 different individuals of a variety of species within the garden boundary, all busily feeding up to see them through the icy chill of the coming night.

The highlight of this period came one January morning, the day after my dad had installed a new bird table in the middle of the lawn, assembled using wooden odds and ends found in the garage. Overnight snow brought an influx of finches – mainly chaffinches and greenfinches – to our garden to feed on the sunflower seeds we had scattered around the base of dad's bird table.

Suddenly, an excited shriek from my mum’s ‘observatory’ in the kitchen alerted us to the remarkable sight of a handsome male brambling, a scarce finch that only visits Britain in winter, perched on the very top of dad’s new bird table!

Whether it is snowing, raining or beautifully sunny, make sure you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this coming weekend.

Now in its 34th year, this RSPB-run scheme is the world’s largest wildlife survey. It has gathered a huge amount of information that has helped to chart the changing patterns of bird distribution and abundance across Britain.

To take part simply watch the birds in your garden (or a local park) for just one hour at some point during the weekend and record the highest number of each bird species you see at the same time. You can find out more by visiting

Remember that it is just as important to record ‘common’ birds as unusual sightings; some species that were once common in Yorkshire gardens have declined dramatically and are now rarely recorded in the county.

Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists' Society