Help needed to find the UK’s rarest bird of prey

he RSPB is calling on farmers and birdwatchers to help locate the UK’s rarest nesting bird of prey: the Montagu’s harrier.  The population of this beautiful bird of prey is down to fewer than a dozen pairs, most of which nest in crops.

The RSPB is appealing for sightings of the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey in an attempt to find and protect their nests, which are often hidden away in lowland crops and often only found at harvest time.

Montagu’s harriers return to the UK in late April after spending the winter in Africa. They breed almost entirely in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly choosing winter cereals, oilseed rape and grass silage. The core population often returns to the same nesting locations each year and RSPB has been working successfully with these farmers for over 30 years, protecting this species.

Farmers have been essential

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier work for the RSPB, said: “Along with species like stone-curlews and corncrakes, farmers have been essential in conserving our tiny population of Montagu’s harriers and through this hotline we hope to locate additional pairs that may otherwise have been missed.” He added: “The UK population is currently teetering on the brink, and finding additional pairs will be a bonus. All reports will be treated in the strictest of confidence.

Montagu`s Harrier © John Miller, from the surfbirds galleries.

Montagu`s Harrier © John Miller, from the surfbirds galleries.

“We’re hopeful that farmers and birdwatchers who spot Montagu’s harriers will contacts us so we can confirm the sightings. We can offer free advice on how these sites can be protected to ensure these magnificent birds can successfully rear young.”

Montagu’s harriers are striking birds. They are larger than a kestrel with long wings and a long tail giving them a slender appearance. The males are pale grey with black wing tips and the females largely brown with a white rump. They feed on mammals, small birds, reptiles and insects by quartering low over crops before dropping on their prey.

Anyone who thinks they may have seen a Montagu’s harrier is urged to contact the hotline on 01767 693398 or email wildlife@rspb.org.uk. Details should include the date and six digit grid reference, if possible, and a contact telephone number.

source: surfbirds.com

Turtle dove population decreased by 93% in the UK – RSPB

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The gentle purr of the turtle dove was once the sound of summer in the UK, enjoyed for a few brief months from early May until the birds’ departure back to Africa in August. But their evocative call is becoming increasingly rare following rapid and perpetual population declines.

Turtle doves were once widespread across much of England and Wales, but the most recent figures show that the population in the south east, one of the last remaining strongholds, has fallen by 84 per cent since 1995. Nationally turtle doves have declined by 93 per cent since 1970.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said that “at this current rate of change, if we don’t help this species, scientists calculate there will be fewer than 1000 pairs by 2020, and complete UK extinction as a breeding species will be a real possibility.”

To help reverse the fortunes of the turtle dove, conservationists embarked on an urgent mission to save the UK’s most threatened farmland bird from extinction.

Operation Turtle Dove was launched last summer by the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England.

Now in its second year, the project partners want to remind members of the public in the UK to report their sightings of turtle doves to a special hotline.

Last year, the hotline had over 425 calls reporting the elusive bird, which has helped map where the birds are breeding and highlight any hotspots to focus the project’s conservation efforts.

Bruce Fowkes, RSPB South East farmland bird advisor, said, “It’s great that so many people are looking out for these birds and supported ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ last year.

“Turtle doves are truly struggling and we are facing the very real possibility of losing this beautiful bird from the UK within the next 10 years.

source: gozonews.com

“So we’re hoping for more reports this year and are appealing to anyone who spots a turtle dove to call and give us as much information as possible.”

The RSPB said that the reasons for the turtle dove’s population crash are not fully understood. However, since the 1960s their diet has changed from mainly the small seeds of wild plants, which are now scarce in our countryside, to one dominated mainly by crop seeds.

These seeds are often in short supply early in the breeding season, and this lack of food during a crucial period could be resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts.

Other factors that may be contributing to the decline of the turtle dove includes hunting in the Mediterranean as the species makes its annual migration, agricultural changes in the African wintering grounds and the avian disease trichomoniasis which is common in pigeons and doves.

In Malta, the Ornis Committee earlier this year recommened that the spring hunting season should open for three weeks between the 10th and 30th of April 2013, the season included the hunting of turtle doves.

The Government then published a Legal Notice declaring the opening of a Spring Hunting Season in 2013 for Turtle Dove and Quail between the 10th April 2013 and 30th April 2013, both dates included.

The national hunting bag limit for the spring season was established at 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 Quail.

Many protests were made through the season by NGOs and other entities, with allegations of illegal hunting among other things.

Italian MEP Andrea Zanoni said earlier this week in the European Parliament, “that Malta has authorised Spring hunting on the basis of a derogation but the bag limit was reached in the first hours, not the first days of the season.”

Mr Zanoni said “this European Member State is taking Europe for a ride. Political parties promised everything during their campaigns for the recent general election including hunting. However, hunters in Malta shoot at everything that moves.”

The MEP’s statement was refuted by both the Federation for Hunting and Conservation Malta (FKNK) and St. Hubert Hunters Malta (KSU).

Home tweet home: World’s best bird house comes complete with ensuite and infinity pool

  • The bird house has been designed by Swedish company Clas Ohlson
  • It comes with a home gym, manicured lawn and ‘tweet’ deck complete with garden and chairs 
  • Blueprints of design can be downloaded from company’s website
Dream home: The two-storey luxury home has been designed by garden specialists in a bid to make garden spaces a more appealing place for the declining number of British bird species

Dream home: The two-storey luxury home has been designed by garden specialists in a bid to make garden spaces a more appealing place for the declining number of British bird species

It might look more like a plan from television programme Grand Designs rather than a garden accessory, but this plush pad is actually a bird house.

The two-storey luxury home has been designed by garden specialists in a bid to make gardens more appealing for the declining number of British bird species.

Designed by Swedish home expert Clas Ohlson, this ultimate bird house has everything the modern British bird could wish for; an open plan kitchen and living room that spills onto a manicured lawn and ultra slick ‘tweet’ deck, complete with garden table and chairs, as well as an infinity bird bath and swinging perch to relax after a hard day’s foraging.

The bird house also features a home gym, ‘en-tweet’ master bedroom and contemporary floating stairs to complete the stylish look.

Interior design: The bird house also features a home gym, en-tweet master bedroom and contemporary floating stairs to complete the stylish look

Interior design: The bird house also features a home gym, en-tweet master bedroom and contemporary floating stairs to complete the stylish look

For added security, the home is also fitted with a predator alarm, meaning the birds can enjoy their plush surroundings without the threat of danger.

Creature comforts: The home is fitted with a predator alarm so a bird can enjoy its surroundings without the threat of danger

Creature comforts: The home is fitted with a predator alarm so a bird can enjoy its surroundings without the threat of danger

Recent research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that some of the UK’s best-loved bird species are continuing to decline.

the numbers of house sparrows and bullfinches have dropped by 17 per cent and 20 per cent respectively since 2012.

Home-sweet-home: A bird enjoys a swing in this pad which is actually a bird house

Home-sweet-home: A bird enjoys a swing in this pad which is actually a bird house

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch campaign claims that by making gardens more wildlife friendly, anyone can create a vital space for these endangered birds.

With a long-standing history of problem solving that spans 95 years, it is hoped the Clas Ohlson bird house will provide a luxurious and safe haven for British birds.

Cosy: Members of the public can download blueprints to make their own bird house which has a staircase

Cosy: Members of the public can download blueprints to make their own bird house which has a staircase

Creature comforts: The home is fitted with a predator alarm so a bird can enjoy its surroundings without the threat of danger

Creature comforts: The home is fitted with a predator alarm so a bird can enjoy its surroundings without the threat of danger

To make sure as many species as possible are helped, people can create their own bird house by downloading blueprints from the company’s website.

source : dailymail.co.uk

Rare birds killed off after migration north sees them face freezing temperatures back in UK

Remains of 8 malnourished stone curlews recently back from Africa and Spain found in Norfolk, Suffolk and Wiltshire

Due to extreme weather conditions, thousands of birds have died in England

Due to extreme weather conditions, thousands of birds have died in England

Rare birds have fallen victim to Britain’s prolonged cold weather with the bodies of several breeds found dead across the country.

The remains of eight malnourished stone curlews – one of the UK’s most threatened birds, recently returned from their wintering grounds in Africa and Spain – were discovered in fields in Norfolk, Suffolk and Wiltshire in the past few days, the RSPB has reported.

The malnourished creatures, which weighed around 300g each compared to a healthy weight of 450g, are believed to have died after struggling to find enough food to survive following their annual migration to the UK.

A number of puffins and other seabirds including razorbills and guillemots were found dead off the coast of Scotland and North East England two weeks ago as a result of continuous freezing conditions and stormy seas making it hard to find food.

There have also been reports of short-eared owls and barn owls found dead after cold weather hindered their ability to hunt.

The late onset of spring has meant a lack of activity usual for this time of year. An influx of migrant birds should be returning to British shores to breed and build nests, but conservationists have noted very little activity. There has been a much lower number of sightings of chiffchaffs, willow warblers and blackcaps than is usual for this time of year, which is worrying given last year’s poor breeding season.

A number of birds have been confused by lower than normal temperatures. Winter migrants like waxwings, fieldfares and redwings are still present in large numbers across the countryside, showing little sign of preparing to head north. Starling murmurations – traditionally a winter evening spectacle – were recorded as late as the Easter weekend in areas including Swindon and Aberystwyth Pier.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “I can’t remember a spring like this – nature has really been tested by a prolonged period of very cold weather.

“We should be hearing the sound of chiffchaffs calling from the trees – a classic sign that spring is here – but that isn’t the case. Some may have stalled on their migration route, while for others the severe lack of insect food available means they are conserving what little energy they have.

“The discovery of eight stone curlews is a stark reminder of how fragile this species is. This amounts to around one per cent of the total UK population of these birds but the total number of deaths is likely to be higher. Many of these birds are only here because of the dedication of farmers who have been creating safe habitats for them in key areas.”

source : independent.co.uk

Hundreds of dead puffins have washed up on east coast beaches

Puffin wreck: The birds are thought to have become exhausted and been unable to find enough food to survive.

Puffin wreck: The birds are thought to have become exhausted and been unable to find enough food to survive.

Hundreds of puffins washed up on the east coast of the UK are likely to have died of starvation as a result of the recent severe weather.

RSPB Scotland said it has taken numerous calls from members of the public about the birds, found on beaches stretching from Aberdeen and Angus down to Northumberland.

It is the worst puffin “wreck” — the death of a large number of seabirds in a single incident — in almost 50 years, the conservation charity said.

Many razorbills and guillemots have also perished, prompting fears about the upcoming seabird breeding season.

Dr Barnaby Smith, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology which is part of the Natural Environment Research Council, said the birds may have been using up all their resources just fighting against the unseasonably cold temperatures and strong easterly winds.

This means they would have become exhausted and unable to find enough food to survive.

A RSPB Scotland spokeswoman said: “This may be the worst puffin wreck we have seen for almost half a century.

“Despite their small stature puffins are fairly hardy birds, adept at coping with the harsh conditions of life at sea. To hear that so many have been discovered dead is unusual and worrying.

“We are in close contact with experts from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology to learn more about what is happening but it appears that the prolonged and unprecedented weather is making life extremely difficult for this species.

“We are fast approaching the start of the seabird breeding season where tens of thousands of seabirds return to their colonies to raise their young. The recent events could have an impact on the success of this year’s puffin breeding season, a species already suffering population declines.

“RSPB Scotland, with the help of volunteers, will be closely monitoring the fortunes of this species and many other seabirds throughout the summer months.”

Professor Mike Harris, also from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, has been keeping an online blog detailing the events.

“There is currently a major wreck under way which is the largest in the North Sea for at least 60 years.

“This was first noticed at the end of last week by people who regularly check the beaches of north-east England for dead birds. Then over the weekend reports started to come in of dead and dying puffins in beaches all the way north to Aberdeenshire.

“Most birds were emaciated and had obviously died of starvation.

“To date, I have heard of maybe 400 dead puffins and there will undoubtedly be many more, perhaps thousands, and this compares with just a handful over a whole typical winter. This will certainly be the largest wreck of puffins in the North Sea for over 60 years.”

source: news.stv.tv

Summer’s early birds risk their return from wintering grounds

Over the next few weeks, more and more migrant species will join the few who have already begun to arrive in the UK

The two swallows that were reported on the last day of February, a day ahead of the meteorological first day of spring, were very timely. Photograph: Franco JF & Bonnard T/Corbis

The two swallows that were reported on the last day of February, a day ahead of the meteorological first day of spring, were very timely. Photograph: Franco JF & Bonnard T/Corbis

One swallow doesn’t make a summer but it is a good sign that spring is here. So, the two that were reported on the last day of February, a day ahead of the meteorological first day of spring, were very timely indeed. Those first two swallows have since been joined by a small number of other sub-Saharan migrants, at least three ospreys, a couple of sand martins and a few northern wheatears.

Over the next few weeks, more and more summer migrants will begin to arrive in the UK. They will reach the end of a journey that for some, like the swallows that wintered in southern Africa, will have been in excess of 15,000km. However, it is all in the timing. Those first swallows and sand martins took quite a gamble, which may not have paid off.

Their aim was to time their arrival with the first appearance of spring-like weather. That mould mean an emergence of winged insects for them to feed upon and, being the first back to their breeding territories, the earlybirds would have the pick of the best nest sites and a head start in the breeding season.

But the return of cold freezing conditions means the gamble has quite possibly failed and those birds will be lucky to survive the conditions. If they do, they may be in poorer condition than those birds who played it safe and arrived later, losing any advantage they might have gained.

Winter will lose its grip though and the signs of spring will become more obvious. From mid-March the song of the chiffchaff will echo around our woods, parks and even in some of our gardens. It is often one of the first summer migrants to be heard and one of the easiest to recognise – the birds sings its own name “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff”. By late March, ring ouzels will be back on their upland breeding grounds from Dartmoor to the Scottish Highlands, but to start with the most noticeable sign that spring is here is the increasing dawn chorus.

Robin song, heard throughout the winter months is now accompanied by up to 10 or more different species. The almost incessant “teacher – teacher” of singing male great tits is one of the more obvious. But the beautiful bubbling song of the dunnock and the striking song of the song thrush, which often repeats phrases in the song three or more times, can also be heard as the sun comes up.

Nest building also gets underway in March. Robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and long-tailed tits, having selected the best site for their nests, will begin building in earnest and it is just possible that some could have fledged young by the end of the month.

If we want to see spring coming we can do this by following the cuckoos that have been fitted with satellite-tags by the British Trust for Ornithology. Having spent the winter months in and around the Congo rainforest, they have now begun their long journey back to the UK.

First they will make their way to Ghana, West Africa, where they will feed up for two to three weeks, storing fat on their bodies that will fuel the arduous crossing of the Sahara. After this they will cross the Mediterranean and southern Europe before finally, if all goes well and the weather is kind to them, arriving back on their English, Scottish and Welsh breeding grounds to announce that not only has spring well and truly sprung, but that summer is just around the corner.

sources:guardian.co.uk