New report reveals good news for rare breeding birds

New data shows that in 2018 ten species of rare birds were bred in the UK in the highest numbers ever recorded. Thanks to extensive conservation work, including reintroductions and habitat management, the fate of some of these birds continues to improve. However, some species have not done as well, while others have been affected by cold winter weather and migration problems.

The most recent analysis of the UK’s rarest breeding birds recorded ten species in greater numbers than any other year.

The annual report of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP), funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and published in the journal British Birds , The aim is to track the progress of the country’s rarest breeding birds by compiling data from conservationists, scientists and thousands of volunteer bird watchers across the UK. The RBBP would like to thank the many bird watchers who contributed data and the bird recorders of the district who collect this data on behalf of the RBBP.

Spoonbill, .copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The results of the 2018 breeding season showed that ten of these species were counted at record levels. While two of these species (Shoveler and Common Redpoll) may just be due to annual fluctuations in numbers and possibly a welcome increase in the effort involved in finding these species, the other eight have been doing better and better for years – many of them breaking continue to set records year after year as they recover from previous declines or colonize Britain for the first time.

Part of this success is at least partly due to better protection of birds and their habitats across Europe. This has contributed to the increase in the great egret, Eurasian spoonbill and Mediterranean seagull, and has allowed their populations to expand further into the UK, although climate change may also play a role. Although not their first breeding in Scotland, Eurasian spoonbills successfully breeded in Orkney in 2018, a remarkable leap north!

These increases were also particularly noticeable in bitter substances and cranes, both of which had previously become extinct in Great Britain. With more research, improved site management, habitat creation, and (in the case of Common Crane) a reintroduction program, these birds have come back. The bittern numbers have increased every year for the past 13 years, reaching 213 booming males, while 46 pairs of cranes were bred in 2018. Other species that saw record years include hawks, red-necked sphalaropes, and rangers.

In addition, avocets have now exceeded 2,000 pairs on a five-year average and have also been bred for the first time in Scotland, with one pair raising two chicks on the RSPB Skinflats reserve. Their relative, the black-winged stilt, is in the early stages of colonizing Britain, and a very small number of pairs are moving north from the continent. They bred in the UK for the fifth consecutive year in 2018.

Mark Eaton, Secretary of the RBBP, said, “Unfortunately, not all species thrive. Fewer quails have been reported than any other year since 1991, Slavonian great crested grebes and terns continue to fight, and only a pair of Montagus harriers have been bred after several individuals returned from their wintering areas in Africa. In addition, lovebirds were included in the report for the first time because the population of this once common bird has declined so rapidly that it is now officially considered a rare species. This first year of data collection has improved our knowledge of the remaining lovebirds in the UK. The first national survey is planned for next year. “

There was also a notable impact in 2018 from the storm – the late winter storm, nicknamed “The Beast from the East” – which hit birds at a time when food resources are already scarce. Rare species such as the little egret, bearded tit, wood lark, and Dartford warbler suffered high mortality and therefore lower numbers were recorded the following spring. We know that common birds like Wrens and Goldcrests have also been affected but have already recovered – so it is to be hoped that the rare breeders have also been.

Dawn Balmer, Chair of the RBBP said, “The RBBP would like to thank the many thousands of bird watchers who have contributed data and the wonderful network of volunteer county bird writers who have collected and shared their expertise on behalf of the RBBP.”


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