Environmental group NABU and regional bird protection groups are calling for people around the country to spend an hour identifying, counting and recording the birds they can see from their balcony or in their garden or local park.
In contrast to the census of people, which has raised hackles among some of the more privacy-sensitive Germans, there is enthusiasm for the idea of spending an hour bird-spotting and noting down what there is around.
“We have been doing this since 2005, and attract help from all sorts of people, not just experienced bird-watchers,” NABU bird protection expert, Markus Nipkow told The Local this week.
“You don't have to know anything in particular about birds to take part – everyone can do it. It might help to have a bird identification book handy, or to download our guide. We even have audio files on our website to help people identify birds from their song, if they cannot actually spot them visually.”
The ‘Hour of Garden Birds' count has been organised to collect data on which birds are living where and in what numbers. People are being invited to spend any hour they fancy, watching birds, any time between May 13 and 15.
Rather than actually count how many birds are seen during the hour, those taking part are asked to record the maximum number of each breed that they see at one time – eliminating the chances of counting a returning bird more than once.
The numbers are not only fascinating – and very easy to understand with results from the last few years available in map-form on the NABU website, colour-coded to show the incidence of different bird species in different places – they are also being used to help monitor changes and trends and enable conservationists to design protection campaigns.
“The house sparrow, although common across the country, is more common in Berlin, for example, than in Hamburg, Munich and the Ruhr area,” said Nipkow. “We can see this from consistent results over the last few years, and it leads us to ask why, and what might be done about it.”
It would seem that Berlin offers more nesting opportunities, with more buildings not having been renovated compared with other cities, he said. There are also many outdoor cafes and parks and green areas which provide food for the sparrows.
This had led to NABU in Hamburg selling special sparrow nesting boxes – they come in rows of three as sparrows are colony nesters.
“They are quite the big seller in Hamburg, the terrace bird boxes,” said Nipkow. And although one might think sparrows are so common as to not need encouragement, he stressed that every species has its place in the food chain.
“The common kestrels in Berlin for example eat hardly anything apart from sparrows,” he said.
Those submitting their numbers are entered into a prize draw, with a top prize of a pair of binoculars.
Nipkow said non-German speakers would have to work out the birds from photos and German names on the registration form, but that this should be possible.
In 2010 39,776 people took part in the survey, counting 837,157 birds in total – Nipkow is hoping for at least as many this year.
The NABU website will post a registration form for results to be submitted, on May 13. There are also identification aids, although the site is largely in German.