Friday, 19 August 2011

Migratory bird species in the UK

I will always maintain that the loveliest spring and summer are experienced in England. Apart from the profusion of flowers and exceptionally pleasant weather, there was always a persistent backdrop of birdsong, regardless of whether I was in town or country, sidewalks or fens. This chorus now stands the danger of disappearing from the British Isles, as explained in the 2010 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report which lists the statistics of bird population from 1995 to 2010. But first the good news…

Good news:

- Two warbler species have reached their highest numbers in 15 years: Blackcap (+73%) and Whitethroat (+25%). The Whitethroat population had plummeted in 1969 due to the drought in Sahel (the arid zone south of Sahara where they spend winter), but have now risen probably due to increased rainfall in the region.

-Chiffchaff (+52%).

Bad news:
10 species have experienced a decline in population numbers between 1995 and 2010. Of these, 8 are annual migratory species which spend autumn and winter in sub-Saharan Africa and return to the UK in spring and summer for breeding (viz, turtle dove, cuckoo, nightingale, wood warbler, whinchat, yellow wagtail, pied flycatcher, and spotted flycatcher).

-Turtle dove: a decline of 74%, with 2009-2010 experiencing a slump of -21%.
-Nightingales: decline of -63%, with a -27% fall in the 2010 level from the 2009 levels. Now seen mainly in SE England.
-Wood warblers: -60%
-Whinchats: -55%
- Yellow wagtails: -55%
- Pied flycatcher: -51%
- Cuckoo: decline of -48%; Now more commonly sighted in Scotland than in England.
- Spotted flycatcher: -47%
The two non-migratory species which have shown a marked decline are:
- willow tit (-76%)
-grey partridge (-54%)

The trend is that relatively short-distance migrants (such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff which fly down to southern Spain and Northern Africa, without crossing Sahara) are doing better, whilst those that travel further (such as Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, and Nightingale) are showing a steady decline in population. The reasons are postulated to be habitat destruction (due to anthropogenic factors), desertification, hunting, and repercussions of climate change- but it is most likely to be a combination of many factors. Since the bird species’ migration corridor covers many regions/countries during the course of the year, the manifestation of any such factor anywhere could act as a leverage point.

* I apologise for any mistakes which might occur when one had taken a cocktail of medicines (am battling a wrist sprain, (another) bout of food poisoning, and an exceptionally torturous flu- all at the same time).

Image source: Scott Barrow/Corbis

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