THE cold weather is likely to drive more birds into gardens in search of food, which could mean bumper numbers for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch.

It is the world’s biggest wildlife survey and takes place over the weekend of January 26 and 27 when local people are urged to spend an hour in their garden or local park, counting the highest number of birds of each species they see.

Almost 600,000 people across the UK, including 90,000 pupils and teachers at schools, took part last year counting more than nine million birds between them.

Tony Whitehead, Dorset spokesman for the RSPB said: “No matter where people take part, whether at home with the family, with classmates at school or with friends in a local park, we’re joining forces to gather vital information about some of our most familiar garden birds.

“It’s a great way to get to know the creatures that live around us, and that’s especially important for children.

“Garden birds can often be a child’s first encounter with wildlife and can spark a lifelong interest in nature.”

Now in its 34th year, Big Garden Birdwatch has helped to highlight some dramatic declines in UK garden birds. In the first survey in 1979, an average of 15 starlings were seen per garden, but that fell to an average of just three in 2012, the lowest ever level.

House sparrow numbers have fallen by two-thirds over the lifetime of the survey too.

“The declines of birds like starlings and sparrows over the last 30 years or so have been alarming, but Big Garden Birdwatch has helped us find out more about numbers and distribution across UK gardens, and that has been the first step in helping to put things right,” he added.

Some species have fared better with blue tits, great tits and coal tits increasing since 1979 and goldfinches now featuring regularly as a top 15 species.

See to find out how to take part.

Dorset 2012 results:

1. House sparrow, average 4.4 in 64.30 per cent of gardens
2. Blue tit, 2.7 in 82.84
3. Blackbird, 2.3 in 90.47
4. Starling, 2.1 in 33.54
5. Chaffinch, 2.1 in 54.82
6. Woodpigeon, 1.9 in 72.61
7. Goldfinch, 1.6 in 35.61
8. Great tit, 1.5 in 62.82
9. Robin, 1.5 in 88.77
10. Dunnock, 1.2 in 55.43