Wildside - Good year for breeding birds

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Warm, settled weather during spring and summer has meant a good year for many of our breeding birds.

British Trust for Ornithology volunteers collect information on breeding bird success, and our summer breeders generally did pretty well.

This result is especially pleasing since it follows two poor years, with torrential rain in 2012 and freezing conditions in spring 2013 causing serious losses. The bird nest recorders anticipated the 2014 breeding season with considerable trepidation in terms of what the British weather might throw at us this year.

However, aside from August’s short visit from the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, the weather was generally warm, dry and settled for most of the spring and summer.

Hundreds of survey participants took part in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS) and Constant Effort Site (CES) ringing scheme in 2014, and most bird species took advantage of the conditions to bounce back from the slumps of 2012 and 2013.

BTO Nest Record Scheme Organiser Carl Barimore noted: ‘This season was a real contrast to 2013’s cold start. With the fine spring weather, many species began laying their eggs one to two weeks earlier than is usual. As the warm weather continued into summer, many songbirds produced above average numbers of young. Voles were also abundant, and so species like tawny owl, barn owl and kestrel, which depend on them, all had the most productive season on record. Some of these birds produced between 20% and 40% more young than average.’

However, it was not good news for all bird species. Unfortunately, our long-distant migrants still struggle and this may be due to conditions in their sub-Saharan wintering grounds.

CES ringers found the lowest numbers of willow warblers and sedge warblers since 1983 when this study began. Numbers of whitethroats and reed warblers were also down significantly this year.

Will 2014’s breeding successes mean more birds next season?

This is not so clear.

According to Dave Leech, Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO:‘The fate of migrant birds depends on more than just breeding success. If conditions on wintering grounds are favourable, then we may see a good number of this year’s young returning to breed next year. However, many long-distance migrants are in long-term decline, and are affected by problems outside the UK.’

n Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org – follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’ at www.ukeconet.org