Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Urban bird are lazy

The most succesful citizen science project of recent years - 6000 participants getting up on the shortest day to record the time birds arrived in their gardens to feed - has just been published (by the BTO's Garden Ecology Team). In a nutshell, birds in the (cold) countryside get up earlier than their (warmer) urban cousins to feed in the morning, in order to quickly refresh their energy reserves. Having spent a long night keeping warm, country birds need to be out and about early to feed in order to survive. On the other hand, urban birds protected by the 'urban heat island effect' with temperatures anything up to 8 degrees higher than country temperatures, dont need to feed as early as they have not used up as much fat reserve when keeping warm at night. Therefore it is much more critical to feed birds in the country than birds in the city (who equally dont have access to left over take-away and MacDonalds!)

Nancy Ockendon, Sarah E. Davis, Mike P. Toms and Sarah Mukherjee (2009). Eye size and the time of arrival of birds at garden feeding stations in winter. Journal of Ornithology (Published online-early)
web: http://www.springerlink.com/content/fr11240311p1g4w5/?p=d84bccb00b0e4aa4bfb8e98a8546c8a6&pi=9)

Nancy Ockendon, Sarah E. Davis, Teresa Miyar and Mike Toms (2009). Urbanization and time of arrival of common birds at garden feeding stations. Bird Study (Published online-early)
web: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00063650902937313

Puffin Puffin!

An expedition, to the Shiant Isles, broke the British longevity record for Puffin on 5 July 2009 when they caught EX08155, which was originally ringed on the island on 27 June 1977. EX08155 was originally ringed by Ian Buxton, also a member of this year’s team, so he was reunited with the same bird 32 years later!

But this record was topped just five days later on 10 July, when Ian recaught EB73152, originally ringed on 28 June 1975, making it over 34 years old (older than three of this year’s expedition members). This is now the oldest recorded Puffin in Europe, beating an Icelandic bird at 33 years old. Amazingly, it not only still had its original metal ring, but also its colour ring, allowing it to be identified as a Shiants bird ‘in the field’.

BTO Press Release. Picture (Alex Borawska) shows Kate Thompson (24) with Puffin (34)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tree Pipit and Nightjar

This year is the second year of a study into Tree Pipits and Nightjars in Thetford Forest. Part of this study is to film the nests in order to record behaviour and to monitor the culprits responsible for predation of either the eggs or chicks. Two small videos have recently been posted of this work (see: http://www.bto.org/research/ecosystems/nestcamera.htm). The one of the nightjar is particularly interesting (and instructive) as the chicks do appear to wander some way away from the nest before returning, one assumes, for warmth and feeding.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

UK Seabirds in 2008

Out now see: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-4467

More high tech comes to birding

From the BBC - we have GPS dataloggers being used on Puffins on the Farne Islands to monitor their movements following recent declines (see:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8126331.stm) and then, more technical, we have neurologgers being used on homing pigeons (see:http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155548.php). The pigeon article is interesting - fit a pigeon with an EEG (brainwave) logger, together with a GPS system and then compare brain pattern with location. By releasing the pigeon to 'home' and knowing where it is (by GPS) the brain wave pattern can be interpreted to determine what stimuli the pigeon is responding too in flight.

"Interestingly, the brain recordings revealed that the pigeons took unusual interest in a couple of locations that did not seem to be relevant to finding their way home. Upon further investigation, the researchers discovered a farm and cattle paddock in one of those spots, and in the second case, a nearby barn. The "riddle" was solved by visiting those places, Vyssotski said. Both harbored colonies of feral pigeons, lending them special significance for the birds".

By using the same technique on other species we may be to identify what areas are important to them, why, and then find ways of conserving them.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Farmland Bird Numbers up 119% (according to the RSPB)

The catch? Only on their demonstration arable farm in Cambridgeshire – but – serving to demonstrate that crop yields and biodiversity improvements can coexist.

The original aim of their farm was to try to show how winter combinable crop production and farmland bird populations could both benefit from the right management. The farm is a commercial concern so, for this reason, winter cropping dominates. A four-year rotation of winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring beans is in place. The fact that this allows them to keep over-wintered stubbles in place is a bonus.

Bird populations have flourished since 2001, despite a slight dip last year. Species such as skylarks, linnets, yellowhammers and reed buntings have all doubled in numbers, while grey partridges, lapwings and yellow wagtails have returned - probably due to having some spring cropping."

Not surprisingly, some of the land is used for RSPB trials. One of the projects is finding ways of meeting the hunger gap - the period of time between February and late April - when food for birds is very scarce on arable farms. We haven't found the solution yet."


An interesting slant on set-aside published in FWi (Farmers Weekly interactive) last week.

A wheat breeder and a seed merchant, who acknowledge that the decline in farmland birds is linked with the modern productive farming needed for food security, state that set-aside figures for helping birds through the hunger-gap of Feb-March need re-evaluating.

They stress that the widely reported DEFRA figure of a 13% fall in the population of 19 species of farmland birds from 1994-2007 masks big variations that have barely been mentioned or discussed, in particular yellowhammers and linnets that have diminished greater than any other species.

“Considering that their steep decline was associated with compulsory set-aside over the whole 1994-2007 period, there's no evidence that set-aside was of any significant benefit to them"

They advocate more thorough co-ordination of existing experimental evidence to produce a management manual which addresses what set-aside apparently does not – to provide a mix of seed-size bearing crops through-out the whole winter period, including the hunger-gap, that will help ALL species including yellowhammer and linnet. To undertake this is one challenge but to do it in a manner that does not give rise to massive bird-food farms is another.