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British Trust for Ornithology News

Stock up feeders; lazy migrants, swallow survey & breeding problems?

Stock up those bird tables now!

Exceptionally early arrivals in gardens of Bramblings, Siskins and other finches, suggests that bird food provided at garden feeding stations is going to be very important this winter. The poor seed crop, for trees like beech and spruce, means that there is likely to be a shortage of ‘natural’ foods this winter, increasing the reliance of birds on food provided by homeowners up and down the country.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is urging garden birdwatchers to stock up on bird food in readiness for what is likely to be a busy winter at bird tables. Many natural foods, like tree seeds and fruits, are in short supply this autumn and this will increase the reliance on food put out at garden feeding stations. If, as many weather forecasters are predicting, Britain and Ireland experience one of the worst winters for several decades, then this will further increase the importance of foods provided by householders up and down the country.David Glue, Research Biologist at the BTO, said “The lack of acorns, beechmast and conifer seed this autumn is going to have a big impact on birds like Siskin, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Brambling and Coal Tit, all of which rely on these seeds to get them through the winter months. Many observers participating in BTO garden-based surveys are reporting their earliest ever winter records of Brambling and Siskin, a sure sign that these birds are having trouble finding seeds elsewhere.”

Mike Toms, BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch Organiser, said “Reports from our network of over 16,000 Garden BirdWatchers suggest that gardens are going to become increasingly busy over the next few weeks. Once we get a run of a few cold nights, the numbers of birds using garden feeding stations will quickly increase. So, now is the time to stock up on birdfood. Sunflower hearts, black sunflower seed and high-energy seed mixes are ideal foods to provide in your garden. By using a range of different foods, and a combination of hanging feeders and bird tables, it is possible to attract a range of birds to your garden.”

The BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch Team has produced a leaflet giving advice on bird feeding, what to feed and how to attract a range of species. A free copy of this leaflet can be obtained by writing to GBW Feeding Leaflet, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU, by telephoning 01842-750050 or by emailing gbw@bto.org.Looking for ‘lazy birds’

“Let’s not bother to go all the way to Africa this winter.” Hundreds of warblers that once would have been expected to spend the winter in Africa chose to stay in the UK last winter, according to Greg Conway of the BTO. Greg wants birdwatchers to be on the look-out for these ‘lazy birds’ again this winter.Greg Conway, who is running the survey as part of his BTO-sponsored PhD, is enthusiastic about the results:

“I am amazed by the number of warblers that were reported. I received information about a minimum of 1426 Blackcaps and 920 Chiffchaffs. More intriguingly, there were eight Willow Warblers, two each of Sedge, Reed and Garden Warbler, plus a single Whitethroat, all of which should have been south of the Sahara, and three Lesser Whitethroats, which should have been in East Africa.”Over one thousand observers contributed to the survey; birdwatchers submitted records for 926 out of 3800 of the 10-km squares in Britain and Ireland – but Greg Conway hopes that even more keen birdwatchers get involved this year. “This is a great survey for birdwatchers to get involved in. We need reports of Blackcaps in gardens, Chiffchaffs at water treatment works and any rare warblers that twitchers find anywhere in Britain and Ireland.”

Reports of warblers, including Goldcrests, can be submitted via the internet, using BirdTrack, the on-line recording system run by BTO, RSPB and BirdWatch Ireland http://www.birdtrack.net or birdwatchers can contact Greg and ask for a form (01842 750050). The survey period is 1 November 2005 to 31 March 2006 (15 April for Blackcap records only). Encouragement for Swallows

Around 700 volunteers, from Shetland to the Channel Islands, spent the summer of 2004 watching 15,000 Swallows, as they swooped over farmland, hunting for food. Results in the November issue of BTO News provide a ‘good feeding guide’ for Swallows.

“The only way to understand why Swallows in some parts of the UK are doing well, whilst others are not, is to see how successfully they find food”, explained Dr Ian Henderson of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who has just analysed the results of observations made by BTO staff and volunteers at over 3,000 survey points.

A total of 15,166 Swallows unwittingly took part in the biggest Swallow survey ever seen in the UK. Observers watched these birds make 71,000 foraging passes, as they swooped past in search of food.So what makes a good feeding area for Swallows?

* Swallows are most strongly associated with cattle, horses and sheep, in that order, presumably attracted to the flies and other insects that accompany farm animals.
* Swallows are most likely to feed in areas with a mix of arable farmland and grassland, preferably with more of the latter habitat.
* On arable land, Swallow’s benefit from a greater mix of crops, especially the addition of flowering crops, such as oil-seed rape.
* Swallows consistently feed along hedgerows containing mature trees. Mature trees provide shelter for flying insects, particularly in poor weather.
* Feeding Swallows least preferred large, open fields of barley and wheat.Declines of Swallows have been noted in several areas of Britain over the course of the last thirty years, particularly in parts of eastern England and the south-west (see Notes for Editors). Increasingly polarised farming patterns, towards improved grassland in the south-west and arable farming in the east, probably explains many of these declines.

Summarising the results, Dr Henderson said: “It appears that the loss of hedgerows and mixed farming may have reduced the quality of farmland for Swallows, just as for many other bird species. New agri-environment measures, which include unsprayed field margins and summer fallows, should be good news for Swallows.”Seventeen species having problems raising families

The British Trust for Ornithology/JNCC Nest Record Scheme has identified seventeen species whose increasingly poor breeding performance in recent years is giving cause for concern. Information collected by hundreds of volunteers, who visit nests to keep an eye on bird productivity, is being used to alert decision-makers to environmental problems faced by Britain’s birds.

Writing in the November edition of BTO News, Dr Dave Leech and Dr Humphrey Crick report the latest findings from analyses of the thousands of records that are submitted by volunteers to the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) each year. The number of species on the NRS Concern List has risen from fifteen to seventeen since last year. Four species have been added to the list in 2005: Skylark, Spotted Flycatcher, Starling and Mistle Thrush, and two (Lapwing and Bullfinch) have been removed.

Dave Leech, who heads the BTO’s Nest Record Unit said:

“The NRS Concern List is designed to raise awareness of declines in breeding success for species whose numbers have fallen significantly in the UK. While the initial population declines were not necessarily due to reduced productivity, we are concerned that hard times may still lie ahead for these species.” Skylark: Already on the red section of the Conservation Concern list, following a decline of 59% between 1978 and 2003. The losses of nests at the egg stage have risen significantly over the last fifteen years. Nests may fail due to factors such as predation, farming activity and poor weather. This is particularly worrying as other BTO research has shown that the number of broods that are raised each year has declined due to the increase in winter-sown cereals which provide poor nesting habitat for the species later in the season.

Spotted Flycatcher: Also on the red section of the Conservation Concern list, numbers have fallen by 81% over a 25-year period. There has been a steady increase in the losses of nests at the chick stage since the 1960s and it is now becoming obvious that fewer chicks are being produced from each successful nest. Flycatchers find insects, such as flies, hoverflies and butterflies, to feed to their growing chicks.

Starling: Another species on the red section of the Conservation Concern list, its numbers have fallen by 78% over a 25-year period. Until recently, Starlings have been raising more youngsters than they did in the 1960s and 1970s, a trend which indicated that summer conditions were relatively good. However, in the last ten years brood sizes have been falling rapidly. Starlings find much of the food they need for their youngsters by probing in lawns and other grassland to find larvae, such as leather-jackets.

Mistle Thrush: This amber-listed species has fallen in numbers by 32%. There has been a severe fall in brood sizes over the last ten years. Youngsters are fed on insects and other invertebrates.

4th July 2014