Birdsong Apps Pose Threat to Breeding

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Bird watching as a hobby has been traced back to the late-18th century as portrayed in the works of English naturalists and ornithologists Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick and George Montagu. During the Victorian Era, the study of birds became fashionable, but not necessarily in their natural habitats, as collectors obtained specimens of eggs and preserved dead birds sourced from around the world. In the late 19th century the Audubon Society in the United States and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain were founded to protect birds from these collectors and from the increasingly popular feather trade. In 1901 a book published by British ornithologist and writer Edmund Selous, entitled simply Bird Watching, is thought to have been the origin of the term describing the practice of observing birds in their natural habitat – a pastime which requires plenty of patience.

In today’s society which is increasing becoming accustomed to instant gratification, patience may sometimes be seen as a hindrance rather than a virtue, and this may be the case among birding enthusiasts who are using mobile phone apps to mimic birdsong in an effort to attract birds. Wardens on England’s Brownsea Island have recently reported instances where visitors have used these mobile apps to mimic the unique call of the Nightjar, apparently so they could get a clearer photograph. What these visitors may not realize is that they are breaking a law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981) which was put into place to protect nesting birds from being intentionally disturbed. Designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), Brownsea Island is home to a host of bird species, including the Nightjar which, thanks to conservation efforts, has experienced an increase in numbers in recent years.

When a recorded birdsong is played repeatedly it is likely to divert the bird from essential duties, such as feeding its young. It may also prompt a bird to interrupt the mating process to chase off what it perceives to be a rival in order to protect its territory.

Giving birders the benefit of the doubt that they may be unaware of the negative impact their birdsong apps are having, the Dorset Wildlife Trust is launching an online campaign to warn people of the harm they may inadvertently be causing. To reinforce the message, signs will be erected on each of the 42 reserves overseen by the Trust requesting that birdsong apps not be used in the reserves.

Hen Harrier to be Released into English Wilds

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The hen harrier is one of the most endangered birds of prey in Britain. Their numbers have fallen incredibly in England in the past, with just ten breeding pairs having been counted last year. While this bird species was once very widespread across Britain, it now seems its domain is limited mainly to Scotland where there are about 630 breeding pairs.

The main reason behind the dramatic decline of hen harriers in England is systematic persecution – namely, the shooting of these birds in their natural habitats in the Pennines and the Peak District. This is an area where these birds come to prey on grouse chicks and it is here that they are most ruthlessly persecuted. However, it seems that government officials are not content to sit back and watch extinction in action. Natural England, a government conversation agency, has been hard at work at drafting up plans to save the hen harrier in England. They would like to reintroduce the bird into the ranges that it formerly inhabited, such as lowland farms, heathland and upland areas including the Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest areas. All this will hopefully take place during the course of the next two years. Until now their plans have been put forth somewhat clandestinely, with the proposals gaining approval from bird conservation organizations, environment ministers and moorland and country sports organizations. The detailed proposals will be officially released to the public in early April.

Why all the secrecy? It seems it is feared that there will be some opposition from certain conservationists and landowners. Caution certainly is the order of the day, since these birds can pose a threat to resident land owners in the proposed areas for release. Farmers in the area are already struggling with a surge in the number of sparrowhawks, red kits and buzzards and the addition of another feathered predator will no doubt only add to their worries. Some landowners use their estates primarily for pheasant and partridge shooting and are concerned that the birds could get in the way. Basically there are fears that the widespread and non-specific reintroduction of these birds of prey could cause havoc to a number of already established farm and gaming practices. What’s more, Scottish sheep farmers are already complaining about decreases in stock numbers due to the much higher numbers of hen harriers in those parts of the United Kingdom. While the reintroduction of the hen harriers to the English wilds is widely supported due to the fact that they are endangered, it seems it is hoped that conservation officials will choose wisely as to how many of these birds will be released and where they will be allowed to make their new home.

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

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The Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is a medium-sized bird that averages between 32 to 37 centimeters in length. The males have solid gray coloring over their heads, neck and wings. Their bellies are white with gray to black stripes, dark gray tail feathers and black eyes. Bills are pointed and black of color. The female Cuckoo resembles the males, but with morphed brown coloring. The Common Cuckoo is a migratory bird and is seen across Europe, including Britain, as well as Japan and China, and migrates to Africa during the winter months. It adapts easily to live in cultivated areas, on the edges of dense forests, open country, marshes and coastal areas.

The Cuckoo has a wingspan of approximately 71 to 76 centimeters and has an extremely distinctive low flight. They fly with rapid ing beats and are very swift in flight. Their flight pattern bears a resemblance to that of raptors, with the exception that the Cuckoo has much weaker strokes and does not glide after a series of beats.

The preferred food of the Common Cuckoo includes a diet of hairy caterpillars, larvae and insects. Not being too fussy, they will also eat beetles, crickets and dragonflies, and have in some instances also been seen eating eggs and songbird nestlings. The female Cuckoo is not the best parent, to say the least. They are not interested in parenthood at all. She can lay in the region of eight to twenty five eggs, and the eggs can vary in color. Sometimes the eggs are brown with markings of lilac, gray, black and red-brown. At times eggs can be green, blue or red, with markings. This enables the Cuckoo to secretly lay an egg in another nest. Not all of the Cuckoo species find host parents for their eggs. The Common Cuckoo will find a species with similar eggs to her own and when the host parents are not in sight, she will lay her eggs amongst the eggs already in the nest. The host parents, not realizing anything is amiss, will complete the 11 to 13 day incubation period and rear the chicks until they are ready to fledge the nest. The female Cuckoo will never return or revisit her chick. Most of the time, the Common Cuckoo chick will be bigger in size than host parents, putting strain on the parents to feed the intruder.

Although the Common Cuckoo is a very wide-spread species and difficult to monitor, it is believed to be plentiful and is not threatened by extinction.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is known the world over for its gregarious, lively behavior. A master of adaptation and great opportunist, this remarkable little bird has gone on to colonize countries the world over. Despite its longstanding relationship with urban man, House Sparrows have sadly been declining in numbers even being added to the Red List in the UK.

A renowned silhouette, the House Sparrow measures in at 4.25 inches in length. Its thick conical bill is ideally suited to the sparrow’s seed diet. Males differ greatly from females and can be identified by their gray crown, black mask, breast and throat, rusty upperparts and nape, with black streaks on the back, gray rump and white on the wing. During the summer the male House Sparrow’s bill is black, but changes to a yellowish color in winter. Female and immature House Sparrows have a gray-brown crown, gray-white underparts, tawny and black streaks along the back, black wings with a white patch and a yellow bill. House Sparrows are typically seen in large flocks oftentimes with other bird species. The bird calls of these lovely little sparrows can be heard year round and are made up of chirrups and cheep sounds.

House Sparrows are actually native to Britain, through northern Scandinavia and Siberia, across northern Africa, India, Burma and into Arabia. This species was introduced into the Americas, southern Africa, New Zealand and Australia, where they have gone on to breed and live successfully. Wherever people are, there you will find House Sparrows. Whether it is in agricultural lands or mankind’s urban sprawl, House Sparrows can be seen taking advantage of any opportunity for a tasty meal.

House Sparrows breed well, raising 2 to 3 broods annually. Each clutch consists of 3 to 7 eggs laid in nests safely built in trees, under eaves or in creepers. Incubation of the eggs lasts 10 to 13 days and the young House Sparrows fledge in 14 to 17 days. During winter, House Sparrows are known to roost in groups.

So what is causing the decline in House Sparrow numbers? Some believe it could be the frequent use of garden pesticides, killing insects which serve as food for newly hatched sparrows. Others say it could be caused by less chickens in back yards and on farms, thereby reducing food availability. On the other hand it could just be a lack of consideration and care on the part of mankind. Why not do your bit in caring for these marvelous little creatures by keeping your bird feeder and water dish full.

Common Bird Numbers Declining

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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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Britain’s Bitterns Respond Positively to Conservation Efforts

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Considered to be on the brink of extinction in Britain just over a decade ago, the bittern has made a remarkable come-back, with the species enjoying its best recorded nesting season in the past 130 years. The loud “booming” mating call of the bittern assisted conservationists in tracking the birds, resulting in a count of 75 males, an astonishing 47 percent increase on last year’s numbers and nearly seven times as many as the 11 which were counted in 1997.

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Crossbills Acting Cross-Eyed

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It seems that a group of rare two-barred crossbills ‘looked’ at their internal compasses a little cross-eyed since they took a wrong turn and ended up in a remote, windswept outcrop of Scottish islands. No doubt the birds came in search of food but it is unlikely that they’re going to find their favorite snack – larch and spruce cones – this far north.

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Razorbill Breaks Records

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It’s been an incredible 41 years since the razorbill chick was born and ringed and now it seems that a British razorbill is completely dominating previous bird age records. The razorbill, known as razorbill M23170, has been crowned the oldest bird of its kind in Britain. It wasn’t a tough decision to make since the average lifespan of a razorbill is just 13 years.

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The National Birds of Prey Center in Gloucestershire

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The National Birds of Prey Center, located near Newent in Gloucestershire, is one of Britain’s premiere attractions and one of the top birds of prey centers in the United Kingdom. It is home to roughly 170 different birds of prey, including 22 species of eagles, falcons and hawks – a real treat for any bird lover or falconer.

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Pigeon Mail Service

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Before the invention of telegrams, phones and email, homing pigeons were the swiftest way for humans to send messages.

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