Since the first International chough workshop (Choughs and Land Use in Europe) in 1988 there have been regular meetings to discuss all aspects related to the biology, ecology and conservation of the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). The species is a valuable indicator of sustainable agricultural systems and the connection to traditional farming methods. The red-billed chough is a species with an unfavourable conservation status on a global level, being listed as endangered in several countries including Portugal. In this context, after the 2007 and 2010 International Chough Workshops (in Glasgow and La Palma, respectively), Vila Real (North Portugal) is playing host to the 4th International Chough workshop on 10-12 October 2013. Two days of workshop will be followed by a day’s excursion.
As underlined in previous meetings, there is still a priority for chough research to understand the influence of the land-use/land-cover trends on the species’ distribution, taking into account on-going landscape changes, genetic diversity, fragmentation and isolation of peripheral populations. At these meetings all specialists agreed to further advance knowledge on the chough populations outside Europe, such as those in Asia and Africa, due to their particular threats and conservation requirements.
Although a considerable amount of information has been compiled and discussed at previous workshops about the chough ecology, all colleagues that are interested in choughs are invited to participate and share their expertise in the 4th International Workshop on the Conservation of the Chough.
The Workshop will be held at the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, northern Portugal. Everyone interested in attending should complete the automated registration form to confirm your participation. The submission deadline for contributions is 31 May, 2013. The organisers look forward to hearing from you.
Our Sept Îles correspondent Regis Perdriat from the LPO Station at Île Grande in Brittany reports that the choughs are still out on the islands. The last 3-4 surveys, have seen the choughs feeding on the same islet (the circle on the photos). The red spots show some of the places where the three birds were found before now. The choughs were even observed to chase away a raven that came around to have a look.
The single, unringed, chough that visited Lundy Island in the UK’s Bristol Channel is still present on that island too. Read updates here
Gianna continued visiting the vets at the start of the year to have her bandage changed until the 9th when it was removed. Another x-ray showed improvement, but she was put on a five-day course of anti-inflammatory pain killers as a precaution. It took her some time to get used to not having the ball bandage on and to realise she could use her foot again.
Gianna was caught up and moved to an off-show enclosure (X1B) on the 11th so we could provide her with more flight space whilst her condition improved. She weighed 275g on moving her.
On the 26th we moved the three juveniles not marked for release up to the display aviary. They were kept in the shut-off area for two days before being released to allow them to acclimatise to the new surroundings and for the breeding pairs to get used to them. Typically, upon release, Tristan and Issy were the first ones to swoop down and check out the new arrivals. Arthur and Gwinny showed some interest, but on the whole left them alone.
The three juveniles are the birds we have been testing with dummy radio tags and incoloy gull rings. We fitted B6976 ♂ with an incoloy ring using a new pair of ringing pliers specially adapted for the job. Thanks go to our Maintenance Department volunteer for his impressive metal work skills. There seems to be no further damage to the dummy tags or birds and no abrasions etc from the ring. All positive signs for the release birds.
Work began on fitting nest-box cameras at the end of the month. We will be using a different type of camera this year with a much better resolution. The camera is a different size and style so the existing nest-boxes have had to be modified. This year we have worked on making them tamper proof so the parents can’t move the lens off the nest. However, these cameras have a lot more infra-red lights on them (improving dusk/dawn image quality) which could create a distraction or the birds could ignore them completely. Either way we will be watching closely to see how the birds behave in the box. If we think the new cameras are not working out we will have to modify.
Progress of the release aviary
Work on the release aviary started again after the winter festivities. Aaron kindly loaned us his lockable trailer once again so materials could be stored on site. The shed end is looking more like a shed and the netting is finally on the polytunnel.
However, yet again Trevor and his team had to battle the elements and the day snow came to Jersey was the day they finally had to down tools. One ongoing issue is the strong winds which puts a stop to any work involving a ladder. The other growing worry was that the snow and non-stop rain have completely saturated the fields and the truck was starting to churn up the ground beyond repair.
Once these issues can be resolved work will continue, but it now means that the completion date will be nearer the end of February. On the plus side it has freed up Trevor to come back to the Wildlife Park and fit the new nest box cameras.
Although many of us provide food for garden birds, especially in winter, we are still in the early stages of understanding how this might affect wild bird populations. One possibility is that winter food enhances birds’ ability to invest in future reproduction. However, it is likely that the exact nutrition a bird receives from supplementary food will be important and a new study has shown exactly that.
In a three year study of woodland blue tit populations, researchers examined the consequences of providing different winter food supplements for egg production. Their results showed that providing fat alone resulted in reduced egg quality in early breeders. This suggests that females which utilised a fat-rich diet in winter were less able to acquire some of the important resources needed to form yolk during egg production. However, the addition of vitamin E to the fat mitigated these affects because, as an antioxidant, vitamin E provides protection after eating fatty foods.
As urban land cover expands, gardens are expected to play an increasingly important role in the conservation of biodiversity. The provision of food for garden birds has been thought likely to benefit this objective although there is limited evidence of its ecological impacts. More generally, food provision has also been applied as a conservation tool to manage endangered populations. This study is the first to suggest that there may be problems. Yet at the population level, these were mitigated by the provision of fat together with vitamin E. Therefore, care must be given to the nutritional composition of foods. Whether winter food for garden birds is considered to be beneficial or harmful may depend on whether effects are interpreted at the level of individuals or populations. If provisioning enables certain low-quality individuals to breed, when they might otherwise have died or survived only as non-breeders, this would clearly enhance their lifetime reproduction and may in fact boost the overall population size. Further work is needed to see how winter feeding may be used to benefit wild bird populations in the future.
These findings suggest that birds require a balanced diet, much like we do, to aid their reproduction, and it underlines the importance of considering the nutritional value of provisioned foods.
Valentine’s Day 2013 is the start of the 16th annual National Nest Box Week (NNBW), organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and sponsored by Jacobi Jayne, during which people across the UK and the Channel Islands are asked to put up nest boxes for their birds. The summer of 2012 proved to be one of the worst breeding seasons on record for many of our most familiar birds. With UK rainfall totals for April and June being the highest ever recorded, many species struggled to raise young. Caterpillars were in short supply, a result of the cool, wet weather, and blue tits and great tits fledged fewer chicks, 13% and 18% respectively — the second lowest productivity recorded for great tit in almost 50 years. The poor 2012 season could have a lasting effect. Many fewer young birds fledged, and the recent freezing conditions and prolonged snow cover in the UK won’t have helped the survival rates of those that did.
It’s not all bad news, though. Many of our smaller birds, including the tits, are able to produce large numbers of young and so have the capacity to bounce back quickly after a single bad year. All they need is somewhere warm and safe to build a nest, and some kind spring weather. Paul Stancliffe of the BTO said, “Putting a nest box up is one of the easiest of things that we can do to help. Whether it is a homemade box or a specially designed box that has been purchased, the joy of seeing it occupied is exactly the same. Even if it isn’t used to raise a brood of youngsters it could still be used as a safe warm overnight roost. So go on, put up a nest box this National Nest Box Week and do your bit to help.”
NNBW aims to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife. Whether you’re a family with space for a box in your garden, a teacher, a member of a local wildlife group, or you belong to a bird club and could organise a work party, National Nest Box Week gives you the chance to contribute to the conservation effort in the UK while giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract.
More than 60 species of birds have been recorded using nest boxes. Most commonly, blue and great tits, house sparrows and starlings will use the typical round-hole design, while robins and spotted flycatchers prefer open-fronted boxes. House sparrows, starlings and spotted flycatchers are all red-listed species of conservation concern.
Visit the National Nest Box Week website for more information on nesting birds, choosing bird boxes, or building your own.
The journal British Birds has published an updated estimate of bird populations in Great Britain and the UK. This follows previous estimates published in 1997 and 2006. There are now thought to be about 84 million breeding pairs of birds in the UK. The ten commonest species contribute 57% of this total, with wren alone providing one in ten of the country’s breeding birds (with 8,600,000 breeding territories). In all, 23 species exceed one million breeding pairs. The individual population estimates come from a wide variety of sources, many from extrapolation of previous estimates by recognised trend measures, others from new surveys and novel analytical approaches developed since the last report. Despite the exceptional level of detail available for some species, many gaps in our knowledge remain. Recommendations are made in the report to allow a continuing improvement in our understanding of the numbers of birds in GB and the UK. There are many opportunities for volunteer and amateur birdwatchers to make a significant contribution.
Although the figures do not include birds from the Channel Islands the species that BIRDS ON THE EDGE are concerned with are in the list (2006 figures are in brackets):
Peregrine 1,500 pairs in UK and Isle of Man (1,283)
Atlantic puffin 580,000 breeding pairs (580,799)
Turtle dove 14,000 breeding territories (44,000)
Cuckoo 16,000 breeding pairs (9,600-20,000)
Red-billed chough 930-940 individuals in UK and 450 individuals in Isle of Man (total 1,360-1,367)