JANUARY’S snowfall may have helped ornithologists get a better understanding of the county’s bird population.

About 10,000 people in Oxfordshire, along with 600,000 across the country, surveyed the nation’s birds for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at the weekend.

And the cold weather helped by sending birds into gardens in search of food and shelter.

Birdwatch project manager Richard Bashford said: “This is looking like the biggest response we have ever had, and that is probably to do with the nice cold snap and snow cover on Saturday, which drives a lot of birds to gardens.

“Some of the best shelter for birds is in gardens which have more food such as ornamental bushes with berries, as well as the food we put out for them – such as seeds and fat blocks.”

For the Birdwatch , the RSPB asked people to count the number of birds in their garden for one hour.

People were asked to note the highest number of each species seen at one time, so as not to count the same bird coming back repeatedly. The information can then be posted or submitted online to the RSPB.

Mr Bashford said the RSPB had already received around 130,000 web forms online, and the closing date for submissions was February 15.

At his home in Ducklington, ornithologist Dr Graham Lenton counted five blackbirds, two blue tits, two chaffinches, three collared doves, three house sparrows, one robin, two wood pigeons, eight jackdaws and eight starlings.

Dr Lenton, who is speaker’s secretary for the Oxford Ornithological Society, said: “The Birdwatch is very useful and trends are definitely picked up. With this data, the RSPB can set up research projects to look into population changes.”

Dr Lenton said the wet summer had been detrimental to bird populations.

“Many just didn’t breed. A friend of mine who works with barn owls said that a large number of young did not survive because their parents were not going out into the rain to get food. He found five young in one box had just died.”

Dr Lenton added the number of goldfinches and house sparrows has gone up recently.

May Wheeler, of Eynsham also took part in the survey.

The 48-year-old said: “It is useful to find out how many birds are around, and to know which ones are disappearing. I am not a twitcher, I just like watching the birds.”

Last year, 10,187 people from Oxfordshire took part in the Birdwatch. The results will be released in March.