Bird Atlas Tracks Trends in Britain and Ireland

December 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Featuring more than 1,300 maps describing patterns of distribution for nearly 300 bird species, the new British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 has recently been released to the public. This comprehensive study of bird distribution trends in Britain and Ireland was compiled from data gathered by more than 40,000 volunteers over a period of four summers and four winters. The information was analyzed by scientists and authors Simon Gillings, Dawn Balmer, Brian Caffrey, Bob Swann, Rob Fuller and Iain Downie and compiled into a treasure trove of information for all who are interested in the birdlife of this region.

Among the wealth of interesting information presented in the Bird Atlas is the fact that as many as forty exotic species have taken up residence in Britain and Ireland. These include the white-cheeked turaco from Ethiopia and Sudan; the red-rumped parrot of Australia; the pin-tailed whydah of sub-Saharan Africa; and the Alexandrine parakeet from Sri Lanka and India, as well as zebra finches and Chinese pheasants. While these are most likely originally escapees from private owners, they have adapted to their surroundings and many have started breeding. So, although they are not indigenous to Britain and Ireland, it appears that they are there to stay and should therefore be monitored along with local populations.

This monitoring becomes even more important when exotic species start posing a threat to native birds, as appears to be the case with the ring-necked parakeet from Delhi. These birds were first reported in the wild in Britain in 1971, having escaped from aviaries. The survey notes that there are now more than 30,000 ring-necked parakeets resident across southern Britain and they appear to be moving northwards. As they use holes in trees to lay their eggs, they are encroaching on the nesting territory of the nuthatch and other birds – and are not shy about taking over.

Observations regarding native birds include the disheartening fact that nightingales, yellowhammers and woodcocks numbers are declining. On the other hand it’s been noted that the little egret and avocet is experiencing an increase in numbers. In addition to listing statistics, the Bird Atlas provides explanations regarding changes that have taken place. For example, the decline in Dartford warbler breeding pairs from 3,214 pairs in 2006, to 600 pairs in 2010 is attributed to the harsh winters experienced in two successive years. It’s not all doom and gloom for Dartford warblers though, as the Bird Atlas notes that they have the capacity to recover and expand their range.

For more information on the new British Trust for Ornithology Bird Atlas 2007-11, visit the BTO Website.

Nightingale’s Journey Provides Valuable Migratory Information

July 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

While being fairly nondescript in appearance, the nightingale is legendary for its amazing singing ability, which can often be heard at night, as well as in daylight hours. The name nightingale literally means ‘night songstress’ revealing the misconception early writers had that it is the female that produces the complex range of trills, whistles and gurgles, when in fact it is the male. It has long puzzled researchers as to where exactly in Africa these migratory birds spent the northern hemisphere’s winter months. Now thanks to technological advances, it has been possible for scientists in Norfolk to track a single nightingale’s 3,000 mile migratory journey, thereby providing invaluable information that will hopefully assist in halting the decline in numbers of this fascinating bird.

In April 2009, scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) captured a male nightingale near Methwold Hythe in Norfolk and fitted it with a geolocator – a tiny device for tracking the bird’s position. This new technology has proven to be vastly superior in providing accurate information as compared to the method of ringing birds which has been used for decades prior to this. The information gathered helps scientist not only to examine threats to the wellbeing of breeding birds in their home territory, but also to evaluate whether migratory destinations of the birds are impacting negatively on their numbers.

Codenamed OAD, the nightingale left its home territory in Norfolk on July 25, 2009, arriving in southern France in mid-August. By September, OAD had arrived in northern Morocco, where it remained for around three weeks. The nightingale continued on to the Western Sahara, where it appeared to stop for a while before continuing to Senegal in November, and from there to Guinea Bissau where it remained until returning to Norfolk in February 2010. Due to the locator failing, the exact route of the return journey is not known, nevertheless it was captured by researchers about 50 yards from the spot where it was initially found in April 2009.

No doubt, the information gleaned from OAD’s epic journey will be of great value to BTO as they continue their work of understanding the pressures faced by birds migrating to Africa.

Common Bird Numbers Declining

September 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Previously birds such as the cuckoo, turtle dove and nightingale were thought to be amongst the world’s most common bird species. However it seems that even these birds are now at risk, with each of these species suffering massive slumps in their overall population numbers during the past half century.

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