Take The Birds In Your Garden, an RSPB booklet from 1971. Forty-six years on and it still does what it says on the cover, forming a perfectly usable guide for identifying and attracting garden birds.
This photo suggests the RSPB wanted to appeal specifically to suburban bird-watchers (I don’t think they were called twitchers then).
Our ideals of human habitation are clearly not what they were in 1971 though bird boxes cannot be so very subject to changing architectural styles. I do recall some pretentious ‘heritage’ boxes in the 80s complete with pinnacles and turrets, suitable for the upwardly-mobile blue-tit perhaps. The boxes above are perfectly in keeping with the pared down, dwelling-unit feel of the houses.
1973’s RSPB booklet, The Birds From Your Window was a rather more elaborate affair with a groovy font to boot:
Brooke Bond birds: Waxwing, Long-eared owl, Long-tailed tit, Woodcock
The Birds From Your Window has pages on birds spotted by various well known people in their own gardens. The choice of contributors – Humphrey Lyttelton, Joyce Grenfell, Robert Dougall and Peter Cushing – makes no concession to a younger audience though I was familiar with three out of four as a nine year old in 1973. Peter Cushing proffers an elegantly written piece:
I was only ever a casual bird-watcher through windows and on walks in the countryside around Guildford. The birds were always so damned elusive though my Auntie Wyn was able to identify stray hoots and treetop twitters with casual ease.
My parents tried to interest me in a Surrey Bird Club membership as a Christmas present in 1973. I didn’t make it to any of the club events but do remember leafing through their unillustrated magazine with its blue and green card covers. Within, members crowed excitedly over rare sightings of exotic Scandinavian visitors or the occasional bird of prey in Cheam.
I also recall a windswept trip to Pagham Harbour in Sussex in May 1978 with a Christian youth group. This came just after the then Labour government’s introduction of the May Bank Holiday which fell on the coldest, wettest May day for several decades if not centuries. Pagham too was cold and desolate. We maybe heard the occasional screech across the mudflats but I don’t actually recall seeing a single bird despite long hours spent clutching binoculars in numb fingers. A thermos of Heinz oxtail soup and white bread fish paste sandwiches (no crumbs for our feathered friends) helped sustain us through a long, grey day.
I think I went partly out of some misplaced duty to my parents. As I shunned the numerous sporty events at least I could show I was relatively ‘normal’ by going on a bird-watching trip which was supported by a total of three boys out of over a hundred and fifty. Well at least it was an outdoor activity…
The spirit of 1970s’ bird-watching is best captured by Martin Parr’s marvellous photos (again, Surrey Bird Club). These are studies in English eccentricity where the camera is turned back on the middle-classes, patiently at leisure in the home counties.