AS Big Garden Birdwatch celebrates its 40th anniversary, the RSPB reveals some less obvious species to keep an eye out for. By Hannah Stephenson.

SOME 130 million birds have been counted during the last 40 years of Big Garden Birdwatch, giving the RSPB an astonishing amount of insight into how our wildlife is faring.

While numbers of blackbirds, house sparrows, song thrush, chaffinches and greenfinch have declined over the past four decades, numbers are up on wood pigeons, coal tits, collared doves and magpie.

Since it began, the survey - which invites the public to spend an hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB - has highlighted the winners and losers in the garden bird world.

So, you might see plenty of pigeons and magpies, but what are the more unusual varieties you could still spot? The RSPB says look out for these...

1. Waxwing

These starling-sized short-legged birds, with an upstanding, pointed crest, have black throats and wings, with white yellow and red markings and yellow-tipped tails. They don't breed in the UK but are winter visitors, appearing between October and March. In some winters, larger numbers arrive in search of their favourite food - red berries. These events are known as "irruptions" and occur in years when the abundance of berries is too low.

As waxwings will travel long distances in search of food, when they find a suitable tree or bush, they gorge themselves on the fruit. Our native rowan tree is their favourite, but they will happily feast on other red berries such as hawthorn, pyracantha, cotoneaster or rosehips too. This means they can often be found in supermarket car parks.

Waxwings are generally not shy and you can get incredible views up close as they're feeding. They can also be tempted into your garden by cutting apples in half and sticking them onto tree branches or even planting some berry-laden shrubs.

2. Redwing

From the thrush family, the redwing is a winter visitor and enjoys feasting on the seasonal berries the UK's hedgerows, gardens and parks have to offer. Its creamy strip above the eye and orange-red patches under its wings make it distinctive.

Redwings roam across the UK's countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows but rarely visiting gardens - except in the coldest weather, when snow covers the fields. Only a few pairs nest in the UK and they feed on berries and worms.

They arrive from September, with most in October and November. They leave again in March and April, although occasionally birds stay later. The very small breeding population in the UK means that birds can be seen all year round. When it's really cold, place apples and pears (cut into half) on your lawn to attract redwings to your garden, along with berry-producing bushes like hawthorn.

3. Fieldfare

Another member of the thrush family, the fieldfare's UK conservation status is red, the highest conservation priority, meaning that the species is globally threatened, and that there's been a severe decline in the UK breeding population over the last 25 years or longer.

They are large, colourful thrushes which are very social birds, spending the winter in flocks of anything from a dozen to several hundred strong. They feed on insects, worms and berries, standing very upright and moving forward with purposeful hops.

You're most likely to see them in the countryside along hawthorn hedges and in fields. In late winter, they may come into gardens during more severe weather, when snow covers the countryside.

4. Reed bunting

The UK population of reed buntings fell by 31% between 1970 and 2007. This decline has probably been caused by the reduction of damp habitats and food sources on farmland, although there has been a partial recovery over the last 15 years.

Sparrow-sized but slim, with a long, deeply notched tail, the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache. Females and winter males have a streaked head. In flight, the tail looks black with broad, white edges. Provide seed food through the winter with wild bird seed mixtures. When singing, the male is usually perched on top of a bush or reed.

Reed buntings usually only visit gardens in winter or late spring. The majority will be UK residents but a small number may be migrants from Scandinavia. When they do move around, they don't go very far, so they are more likely to be found in rural gardens than in urban areas. The lack of available seeds in the winter is the reason they are more likely to be seen in gardens in the cold season.

5. Redpoll

This tiny finch is only slightly bigger than a blue tit. It is streaky and brown with patches of red on its head and sometimes on its breast. They like to hang upside down to feed in trees. They eat seeds, particularly of birch and alder, plus plants like willow herb and sorrel, but they also visit bird feeders.

In gardens, the best food by far to attract redpolls is nyjer seed, which they'll either take from a special nyjer feeder (which has tiny seed ports) or direct from the ground, a table or ground tray.

In many areas, winter is the easiest time to see redpolls, after the trees have lost their leaves. They are are very gregarious and flocks can number over 100. Having multiple finch feeders for them will allow you to host more redpolls in your garden.

Get involved with this year's Big Garden Birdwatch

This year's Big Garden Birdwatch takes place from January 26-28. To take part, watch the birds in your garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days, and then send your recordings to the RSPB. For your FREE 40th anniversary Big Garden Birdwatch pack, which includes a bird identification chart, plus RSPB shop voucher and advice to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit