Bad weather for migrating birds

Redwing. Photo by Mick DrydenAn appalling combination of fog and winds around UK and Channel coasts this last week have created terrible conditions for migrating birds. An RSPB news report details how some fishermen have seen exhausted and disorientated ‘garden’ birds plunging into the sea around their vessels.

We have seen the arrival in the region of many birds, including redwings, fieldfares, bramblings and blackbirds, perhaps numbering in their millions this week. The RSPB believes these birds may be the lucky survivors which have managed to cross the North Sea, but the Society concedes that many others may have perished before making landfall.

One such site to experience a ‘fall’ of stranded migrant birds was the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs reserve in North Yorkshire. Ian Kendall, the reserves manager commented  that: “there are birds in their thousands, on the cliffs, in the surrounding fields, hedgerows and along the length of the Yorkshire Coast. The birds left Scandinavia in glorious sunshine but as they crossed the North Sea, they flew into fog and rain, so they stopped off at the first bit of land they have come across. The place has been dripping with birds.”

Male blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenAlong England’s south coast, the RSPB also received several reports of thousands of disorientated and exhausted birds drowning in the sea. One respondent, a professional boat skipper, said: “While fishing about 10 miles south of Portsmouth, we witnessed thousands of garden birds disorientated, land on the sea and most drowning.  Species included goldcrests, robins, thrushes and blackbirds. The sky was thick with garden birds. I estimate I saw 500 birds die and that was just in our 300-yard sphere. On the way home we just saw dead songbirds in the water: it was a harrowing sight.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director said: “The scale of these reports is truly shocking, and it has the potential to adversely affect the status of species which may be declining for other reasons.”

Those exhausted birds which have made it to the UK, the Channel Islands and the French coast will be looking for food and may be visiting gardens, especially as the weather is expected to turn with the area forecast to receive the first icy blasts of winter. Now is the time to start topping up bird tables and feeders. These birds need all the help they can get, so gardeners and farmers can also help birds by not cutting hedgerows laden with much-needed berries.

There are no dramatic reports of dying birds in the Channel Islands this week but St Anne, Alderney, awoke to streets full of blackbirds last week. Keep checking the Jersey and Guernsey bird updates to see what is arriving or passing through.

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